Monday, March 31, 2008

Regional non-fast rail - Part 2

VLocity unit 15 has completed platform duties,
is closing the doors and is nearly ready to go.

VL 15 heads off around the bend, next station Heathcote Junction.

Track machines in the Standard gauge siding at the Melbourne end of Wallan loop.

This photo was taken at the Hobsons Bay Model Railway Club's Exhibition of Australian Model Railways that is held over the Easter weekend each year. Shown is an N scale model railway layout based on Wallan back when it was a more substantial station (compare now (sort of) and then). In the front are the broad gauge running lines, then the large broad gauge yard, while at the rear is the standard gauge line with two trains crossing in the loop. The track machines in the photo above this one are parked in a small siding that is not depicted, that runs off the start of the loop, and would be parked just behind where the blue and red locomotives are (these are NR class locomotives in Indian Pacific and The Ghan colour schemes BTW). Most crossing loops on the north east standard gauge have at least one such siding for the storage of track machines or broken down locomotives and rolling stock. This layout is owned by the Victorian N Scale Collective.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Regional non-fast rail - Part 1

Went for a drive today up to Bradford and back home again via Wallan. I decided to stop in at the stations of both these towns and was rewarded at each by a train within 10 minutes of arrival. It was interesting to note that V/Line is using the latest VLocity railcars on this line at weekends despite the fact that this line was not part of the regional fast rail project. During the week it is a mix of older Sprinter railmotors (railcars) and locomotive hauled carriages. Anyway at Broadford I took some photos of this Melbourne bound train, it appeared to have a full seated load which surely is a good sign.

VLocity 1131-1231 approaching Broadford station while on
route from Seymour to Melbourne Southern Cross.

This section of track between Craigieburn and Seymour is notable in that it is the last remaining section of double line block safe working in Victoria (if not in Australia). What this means is that the line is divided into sections or blocks. In total there are 5* blocks, these being:
  • Craigieburn - Donnybrook*
  • Donnybrook - Wallan
  • Wallan - Kilmore East
  • Kilmore East - Broadford
  • Broadford - Seymour
* Until the extension of suburban trains to Craigieburn last year there was a block between Broadmeadows and Somerton and another between Somerton and Donnybrook. When the suburban extension to Craigieburn opened the block instruments from Somerton were moved to Craigieburn.

At each station mentioned above there are machines known as Winter's Block Instruments (Winter being the inventor), one for each section of each line. These allow the signaller to communicate with the signaller at the next or previous station using bell codes and indicator needles to negotiate the progress of a train along the line. The signals are sent along the telegraph wires or other communications lines beside the railway. The system is explained in much better detail at Vicsig.

VLocity 1131-1231 loading/unloading passengers at Broadford.

Anyway the point is that the infrastructure required for Double Line Block can be seen in the photo above. There is the signal box on the right which houses the signaller, signal levers and block instruments. Further down the line you can see the down starting signal in front of the train, which allows a train into the next block. On the right of the other line is the down home signal which accepts trains in to the station. These arrangements are reversed at the other end of the station (somewhat visible in the first photo). These are both lower quadrant semaphore signals. There is also a crossover which at a guess is only used in case of emergency under special instructions from the signaller and train control (Centrol) in Melbourne.

I should also mention Double Line Block allows stations to be "switched in" and "switched out" as needed. So for busy times all the stations can be switched in to allow a maximum number of trains through, while at quieter times some of the stations can be "switched out" . Today was one of those quieter times, and I believe it was operating as a single block from Craigieburn to Seymour.

VLocity 1131-1231 disappearing towards Melbourne.

In this final photo you can clearly see the standard gauge line from Melbourne to Albury to the left of the double track broad gauge line. This line has recently been re-laid with concrete sleepers for it's length and longer passing loops known as passing lanes are under construction. The concrete sleepers allow for higher speeds, particularly on curves, and have a longer life span that wooden sleepers (not to mention that we are running out of good quality red gum that is needed for environmental reasons to remain as trees). The existing passing loops are about 2 km at most, which defines the maximum length of the trains that can run on this line (to I believe about 1.8 km), and require many trains to be "put away" or stopped in the loops in order to cross (rail term for trains passing each other in opposite directions) a train in the opposing direction or be overtaken by a faster train . The new passing lanes in contrast will be many kilometres in length (perhaps 5 to 10 I'm not sure on the specifics) which will allow trains to simply pass each other while moving, which make for even faster travel times. All this work is being undertaken by the ARTC (Australian Rail Track Corporation) a federally funded corporation which manages the interstate standard gauge rail network.

Earth Hour

Last night people flocked to cities around the world to see them in darkness. This is what they saw.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The day before, in Melbourne

For some reason whenever I go to Sydney I come home and can't help but notice how run down Melbourne looks in comparison. (I'm sorry but it does!) This time it appears that they had started to dismantle it the day before.

In reality they were laying new tram track for the new island platform tram stop in Flinders Street. This involved replacing the crossing (the bit that looks like a #) with Swanston Street and the track for a whole block between there and Elizabeth Street. I'm not sure that an island is the best way to go,as trams are set up for left hand loading (although it inevitably happens at the end of every tram line), but one good thing to come out of it is a much needed set of mid block pedestrian lights. These are particularly needed on weekends and late at night when the Degraves Street subway is closed. I rugularly jay walk there on weekends.

Incidentaly they broke through the roof of the Degraves street Subway during the demolition of the tram line, and as of Tuesday it was still closed. There are a number of business' in the subway who no doubt will be seeking compensation for loss of trade. From memory there is a newsagent, a number of small boutiques, a barber and an internet cafe.

Sydney for a day

A few weeks ago when I was home sick from work (bad sun burn) I heard an ad on the radio for charity mystery flights for the Good Friday appeal. So after asking mum if she wanted to go I rang up and booked. 3 hours latter I checked my email and found out we were going to Sydney. Mystery solved.

View of Sydney across the harbour from Watsons Bay.

Last Sunday was the day and we had a good one. Before we left we decided to go to Watsons Bay for Doyles Fish and chips, but we also managed to squeeze in a train ride across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a ferry ride to Darling harbour via Balmain and Birchgrove.

Cliffs at The Gap

At Watson's bay I showed mum "The Gap" and the view across the Sydney Heads. Mum said she had no idea there would be so many people here, thinking we would be the only one's on the ferry. As to the fish and chips, I think they are some of the best fish and chips I've ever had, and one of the reasons I was keen to go back.

Watsons Bay Ferry

I dunno how but all our public transport connections worked pretty well, the longest we had to wait all day was about 20 minutes for our Watsons bay Ferry from Circular Quay. It was quite expensive though, but still good value. I was prepared for $16 day tripper ticket, but a return gate pass for the airport station alone cost me $14. Mum being a pensioner got away with the $10 pensioner special (normally costs $2.50 without the airport included).

Luna Park in Sydney

One other observation was the verdant green grass everywhere, something not seen in Melbourne (except the Fitzroy Gardens which come close). It's amazing what a bit(lot) of rain does.

I don't need to tell you what's in this photo.

It was a big day for different modes of transport, in all we caught 4 trains, 3 ferries and 2 planes, and drove 1 car. Speaking of planes, I just can't express how much better Qantas is than Virgin Blue. In most cases it's marginally more expensive, but that is made up for in better aircraft, better comfort, better service (had a really nice Japanese flight attendant on the way up, she went out of her way to make small talk with the passengers) and better food. Fly QANTAS.

On the way home

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Edge

A few weeks ago (actually about 6 now) my weekend wanderings took me down City Rd to photograph this phenomena. I think people were wondering what I was looking at.

Edge goes out.

Edge goes in.

This is full size un-rotated crop of "Edge goes out", if I'm not mistaken that is a star right there in the middle. There are one or two more visible in this photo, and in "Edge goes in" as well, but in the latter they are quite faint. Not bad for 2-3 pm in the afternoon.

Also if you look closely you can see right up that girls skirt...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

You Tube - Tourism

Lately I think I've nearly been watching more You Tube videos than TV. Today I happened across quite a few interesting short films. One film of these that I watched was Misguided Tour.

Misguided Tour led me on to some legitimate tourism ads for Melbourne, such as, Run Rabbit Run for the Yarra Valley, the ball of string one, and what passed for a tourism ad in 1985. The last one shows just how far we have come in the last 20 odd years, replacing sport (it's nearly all sport) and nubile young young women with more abstract concepts of what Melbourne has to offer the potential tourist. Was greyhound racing at Olympic Park really a tourist attraction in 1985?

Then again who knows what people will think of the ball of string in 20 years time?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Librarial and other matters

Today I thought I'd go and have a nose around the City Library after work. After turning the corner from Degraves Street into Flinders Lane I was greeted by a sea of people and some flashing blue and red lights. Turns out the police were arresting a couple of drunk and disorderly types, there was a lot of arm twisting going on. I was surprised at the number of people just standing there watching. I didn't stop to watch though, I just kept going in to the library.

Once I was up the stairs and in the Library I turned right towards the catalogue computers only to find they had vanished. There was a paper sign stuck to the wall saying they had moved them to the pillars next to the stairs in the foyer. Sure enough they were there. What a bad idea though, talk about un-ergonomic. Although the screens swivel up and down to adjust for height, I would imagine these computers are pretty uncomfortable for anyone other than average height like myself to use. Not only that but the network in there is so slow, it took minutes to load up the page after hitting search, or clicking on a selection (couldn't help but notice that they had upgraded to Internet Explorer 7). I just gave up and went searching manually for what I wanted.

This led to my second qualm, which was the fact that there seemed to be more books sitting around on trolleys waiting to be put on the shelves than there were books on the shelves. This made finding what I wanted extra difficult, as if they were sorted in some sort of order, someone else like myself had come along looking for something and mixed them all up. I just gave up on the whole library thing at that point.

For the first time in my life I felt like I had to complain about something, so I went and found the suggestions box and sheets (at least I could find them) and spent a good 10 minutes writing out my complaints (in doing so I used the desk that used to house the catalogue PCs).

On my way out it seemed the police were still there, although there is a police station right opposite where the arrests were happening so I guess that is natural. I then took a tram up Collins Street to Spring Street where I was going to change to a train at Parliament, but decided instead to walk across the Treasury and Fitzroy gardens to Jolimont Station.

On the way I noticed how much cooler it was in the gardens. It was almost as if the coolness was radiating off the nice green lawns. This reminded me about something I was reading a few weeks ago about green roofs in cities and how they help to keep temperatures down. On a day like today at 39-40 degrees outside any relief would be welcome, not to mention the benefit of somewhat cleaner air and more public open space the rest of the year.

Greener pastures

I know how boring, another computer post. I promise this is the last computer post I will make for a long time (unless something goes horribly wrong).

I have given up on the 8800 GT dream, I have since found out that there are ways to make it work, but I can't be bothered any more. So today I went and bought a cheap little 256 MB nvidia 8400 GS from ASUS for $52 (in case you were wondering that's a photo of it at the top of this post). Maybe I am easily pleased, but I'm impressed with it. I tried it out on MSTS, and I can now run it at full detail levels for the first time ever. I tried out Far Cry too, which runs pretty well at moderate resolution and detail. It certainly beats the integrated graphics I've been used to until now.

As you can see by the games I've tested so far I'm not much of a gamer, which is why I think this card will do fine. One other game I am interested in is the oddly named (yet totally obvious when you see it on the shelf in the shop) The Orange Box, which is really a compilation of games. I have heard good things about it, and know a few people who have it, so I want to play too. This card will run it fine.

I would never have thought such a cheap video card could perform so well if it weren't for the videos I found on You Tube. Most of the videos were of people playing games supposedly running on this card, I believed them, and I think it paid off. I have come to realise that You Tube could be a big help in purchasing decisions from now on. Of course some of the videos were a bit painful to sit through, but I usually go to another when boredom starts to kick in. I'm starting to really like You Tube actually

Monday, March 10, 2008

Roadblocked on the Boulevard of Crappy Motherboards and Incompatible Video Cards

So I fronted up to MSY on Friday after work and bought a generic (actually xpert vision) branded 512mb nvidia 8800gt for the low low price of $240. When I got home I realised that the 350 watt power supply in my computer wouldn't cut it. So on Saturday I went to CPL to pick up a nice new Coolermaster extreme 500 watt power supply.

When I got home I installed the power supply and tested it, everything worked fine. Then I installed the video card and changed the BIOS to use the PCIe slot instead of the onboard video card. When I powered it up I got nothing. I checked the BIOS settings and again nothing.

After checking the internet my worst fears were realised, my crappy motherboard does not support the latest video cards. The question is what to do now. Do I replace the motherboard or just buy a cheaper, older video card?

At this stage I am leaning towards the later, as I don't really feel like ripping the guts out of my computer. I would be willing to spend up to about $100 on a cheaper video card, something like a Radeon 2400 or 2600, I'm not sure about the nvidia 8600, or the 9600 in terms of compatibility I doubt it. Actually thinking about it, if I could sell the 8800 I could buy a new motherboard and cheaper video card with the proceeds and not be out of pocket at all (much).

Anyone want to buy a new in opened box xpert vision 8800GT 512 MB video card? $200 sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Bloggers block

I just wrote two posts they make no sense at all. Saved as drafts and filed away forever. hopefully I'll come up something meaningful this month.