2011 is transferred

Two weeks ago today, I posted about the changes at Photobucket and how they could affect my blogs (including this one).

This morning, I finished transferring all images for posts made in 2011 to my own server. Given that I started the blog on August 29, 2011, that represents less than a half-year of blogging – and just 104 posts out of more than 1,200. So there’s still more to do – a lot more.

But it’s a start, and I now have a procedure that’s working for me.

Just thought everyone would like to know that at this rate, there should be no service interruption at Port Rowan in 1:64.

The Pindal Electric Tram

I’d heard about the Pindal Electric Tram for many years, and even seen a few videos. But nothing quite prepared me for the experience…

Earlier this month, some friends and I visited Kaj and Annie Pindal to spend a few hours in the afternoon riding the delightful 15-inch gauge, ride-in electric trolley line that runs in their back yard in Oakville, Ontario.

While I could go on at length about how Kaj built his own equipment, powered mainly by motors liberated from electric lawn mowers, made his track from fence rails, switched from trolley poles to bow-collectors which he fabricated himself, and can use the railway to take the household garbage and recycling to the curb… I think a video is the best way to express the magic that is the Pindal Electric Tram.

So here it is: enjoy if you watch…

(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Thanks, Kaj & Annie: What a wonderful day out!

(I’ve posted this to my “Adventures in Live Steam” blog, because while it isn’t live steam, it is a garden railway so that’s the most appropriate place to publish it. But since that blog receives very little traffic I thought I’d also put it here. Really, this defies categorization.)

Shooting a cover

The editor of a hobby magazine emailed yesterday to ask for a vertical-format photo to use as a potential cover for a feature I wrote. I spent the next several hours composing and shooting 13 potential covers.

Shooting a cover.
(Lights, camera, cover? We’ll see if this composition makes the cut…)

I’m pretty excited: If my photo is used, it’ll be the first cover story related to my current layout in a mainstream monthly print publication. (My previous, Maine On2 layout made the cover of RMC several times.)

Cover shots are tricky. First, the vertical format is really challenging for almost all layout photography. We normally view our models (and our layouts) from the side. But the vertical format for a cover means it makes more sense to shoot along the layout instead of across it.

As anyone who has done layout tour photography will know, that creates all sorts of challenges. For example, Even if you’re just focussing on a couple of models in the foreground – just a few feet in front of the camera – you may have an expanse of sky that’s going to need lighting. In the case of the above photo, I had to light up about 15 feet of backdrop in Port Rowan, plus the background at the west end of St. Williams – about 25 feet away from the lens.

Another issue is the nature of trains themselves. Our model trains are low (extending just a few inches above the rails) but long (running for several feet). So shooting a train side-on is impossible when taking a vertical format photograph. Even shooting even a single piece of equipment side-on is tricky. For a vertical photo, even if the model fills the frame side-to-side, there’s going to be a ton of boring sky above it.

This is another reason to build realistically tall trees. They help add interest to the photo. It helps, too, that on a cover, much of the top of any photo will be covered by the magazine’s name/logo. There will also be several call-outs on the cover – “Gluing things to other things: Page 48” and so on – that help hide less desirable elements in the background of a photo. In my case, I have a sharp vertical line where the backdrop curves away from Port Rowan to enter the Lynn Valley, but cloning some trees in PhotoShop, combined with the logo and call-outs, will make that disappear from the viewer’s perception.

The logo, the call-outs, and other items like the location of mailing labels and UPC codes are all things one needs to think about while composing a cover. And that’s before any considerations about scene composition and engagement with the casual viewer. A cover needs to grab attention on the rack – whether it’s in a hobby-friendly location like the local model train emporium, or in an agnostic location like a book shop or grocery store, where it’s competing not only with other model railroading publications, but also all those other magazines vying for our money.

I know my layout photographs well, because I’ve found many interesting places to shoot images on it (which I’ve shared on this blog). But I’ve rarely done vertical format photos and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an interesting location to shoot when the camera was rotated 90 degrees.

We’ll see how well I did if/when my shot is used on the cover.

Beyond that, I will wait until the article comes out before I reveal what it’s about and what magazine it’s in. At that time, I’ll also share some of the rejected cover shots.

Stay tuned…

Updating links, and expanding the directory

I’m in the process of reviewing my entire blog (Thanks for that, Photobucket!) and I’m finding some outdated/broken links.

Have you seen this link?

Realizing that fixing every link on the blog will be onerous, I’m considering simply dropping links for those sites I list fairly frequently. I’ve reviewed my “Links” directory on the right hand side of the home page, and have updated and re-organized those so they’ll be easier to use. I’ll be adding more links as I encounter them while reviewing my blog.

So, if you find a broken link in a post – or if you find a manufacturer listed without a link – the first place you should check is the “links” list. You might find a working link there. (If not, there’s always Google…)

If you still find a broken link, let me know using the “comments” section of this post. (As I fix them, I’ll delete your comment so I can keep track of those I still need to address.)

Also, I’m gradually adding a star (*) in posts next to anything that has a link in my Links directory. And I’m adding a note to the bottom of link-heavy posts reminding readers that the up-to-date links can be found in that directory. Something like this:

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

In the future, if a link breaks, the first place I’ll fix it is in the directory – not necessarily in all of the posts.

What the Photobucket?

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(Read about the debacle on Yahoo! Finance, by clicking on the meter above)

“What the Photobucket?” – that’s an expletive being used by millions of people around the world right now.

I have been a Photobucket customer since September 2001, and have used it since I launched this blog to store and manage all the images I use here. This is called “Third Party Hosting” – and it could spell the end of this blog.

Here’s why:

On July 6th, Photobucket eliminated 3rd Party Hosting for all of its non-paying users, and made 3rd Party Hosting an exclusive feature of its top-tier, commercial subscription plan. Non-paying customers were cut off on July 6th. All of their links broke. The photos are still there – but they can’t be embedded and the links have broken that allowed already-embedded images to display elsewhere.

The company announced the changes in a news release on its blog. Another blog posting provides further information.

I happen to be a paying user. I pay Photobucket $30 per year for extra storage – which is the only reason you’re still seeing the photos on my blog. All paying customers, including yours truly, have received a grace period – until December 2018. Basically, I have a year and a half to decide whether to subscribe to the top-tier commercial plan – the Plus 500 – or to move all of my photos to another picture service (or my own servers) and edit all of the links in my blog’s coding.

The Plus 500 plan costs US$400 per year. I can’t justify US$400 per year for a blog that generates no revenue. I already pay a fair bit to my ISP each year to host the web site (The Model Railway Show), which includes the hosting service for this and other blogs I write.

Perhaps Photobucket will realize that its customers who make no money off their photos are willing to pay something, but can’t justify US$400 per year. Perhaps Photobucket will adjust its rates for 3rd Party Hosting.

But if they don’t, my alternative is to move the images – and edit all the links in my blogs. That’s problematic, too:

As of this writing, I have 3,029 images stored on Photobucket – including 2,222 images directly related to “Port Rowan in 1:64”. In many cases, I have used the same image several times on the blog – for example, as the link from a new post to an older one. (“Click on the image to read more…”) So, moving the images to another service and editing all of the links will be a huge undertaking.

I’m not sure I have the energy to do that. It’s a task that would be measured in weeks, if not months. I have more than 1,200 posts on this blog – if I update three posts per day, on average, I’ll finish migrating the blog over from Photobucket before the plug is pulled on 3rd Party Hosting.

Incidentally, I did a test of what it would take to migrate the blog, and I was able to do 25 posts over the course of 3-4 hours. So, it’s not completely out of reach – but it’ll be a lot of work. I have more than 1,200 posts on the blog, and counting. Then I have two other (albeit smaller) blogs to migrate. As a side benefit, if I do this I can clean up some of the older posts – for example, by fixing broken links. We’ll see…

While the manner in which Photobucket handled this change is pretty cruddy, I must admit I sympathize with the company’s plight. It’s a for-profit enterprise, and never pretended to be anything else. In my professional life, I expect my clients to pay for my services – so it would be hypocritical of me to expect Photobucket to provide its services for free. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a paying customer for so many years.

Those in charge at Photobucket thought they had a workable business model, through a combination of ads associated with each gallery and modest subscription fees. Obviously, it doesn’t work: ad-blocking software and 3rd Party Hosting links have killed the revenue stream from advertising. The company notes in its news release that 75% of its costs arise from non-paying users employing 3rd Party Linking. So, the company had to do something.

Unfortunately, the manner in which they’ve executed these changes has angered a whole lot of people on the web. Many feel that Photobucket is trying to extort them – is somehow holding their photos hostage, unless they pay US$400/year:

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(Click on the image to read more on “The Register”)

As a result, I predict that most of those non-paying users will flee Photobucket for the next “free” service. They’ll abandon most of their photos, because they’re not really of value anyway: in the case of amateurs, the photographer has already shared the image and moved on. In the case of professionals – well, they rolled the dice on a free service. You get what you paid for.

Still, an exodus will me that Photobucket will become the service that stores more than 15 billion images that nobody looks at anymore.

The real question is, do I have until December 2018 to decide what to do? Or will the exodus force Photobucket into the Internet’s dustbin before then?

Enjoy the blog while you can…

(Since this is not a post related directly to Port Rowan in 1:64, I have disabled the comments feature. If you feel compelled to comment, there’s a very active thread on the subject on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum. Personally, I’d rather not get into a discussion about either the issue, or potential solutions: I’ll do my research and figure it out…)

Leedham’s Mill construction :: 1

Summer seems to be my season for modelling structures – and this summer, I’m tackling the most important customer on my model railway: the Leedham’s Mill, literally at the end of the line in Port Rowan.

 photo Airstream-04_zps20685787.jpg

The mill consists of several buildings, including an elevator at trackside, a coal bin, and a storage building for bagged cement. But I’m starting with the office:

Leedham Mill - office model

This is a visually interesting structure with an equally interesting history. The mill office started life as the railway’s freight house. It sat east of the station, and was painted in Grand Trunk’s two-tone scheme.

But the railway sold the structure to Leedham’s Mill, and in February of 1938 the mill hauled the freight house across the tracks and west to the mill property.

Port Rowan freight house - moving day
(Moving day! Photo courtesy the Leedham family. Click the image to read more about the prototype)

The mill’s new office was put on a new foundation and at some point, a cinder block extension was added. Also at some point – I’m not sure when – it received a coat of red paint. This structure still exists as part of Doerksen Farm Supplies Ltd.

Late last year, I was fortunate to sit down with Donald Archie Leedham, who worked in the family mill in the 1940s and 1950s. Donald provided me with a lot of useful information about the mill and its relationship with the railway, which you can read about in an earlier post. Just click on the photo, above.

My mock-up of the office has done terrific service on the layout, but has been in place for several years now while I focussed on other projects. Given that it’s right up front on the layout, and one of the first structures visitors will see, I wanted to polish my skills on structures that are not such a signature item.

But last weekend, I printed out a package of detail shots – many taken for me by Mike Livingston on one of his trips to Port Rowan. I made several notes on dimensions and claddings, and then got to work cutting and gluing styrene and strip wood.

Leedham Mill - office model
(The side of the office that’s closest to the aisle on my layout. The cinder block extension will go on corner in the lower right)

Leedham Mill - office model
(The side of the office that’s closest to the backdrop. Visitors will be able to look between the office and the elevator and see this wall)

For this structure, I’m using the wall farthest from the aisle as a place to experiment with stains and shading. I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately for tabletop miniature gaming and role playing games, and learning painting techniques that are new to me, so I’m working on applying them in a model railway context. To emphasize the walls, I’ve stained individual boards and battens with browns and greys, then randomly glued them to my styrene sub-walls before blending everything together with a top coat. I’m really happy with the results so far, and look forward to continuing to experiment with washes and tones.

Right now, I’m waiting on an order from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber. (It figures: I finally get started on the structure, and I promptly run out of a critical size of strip wood.) But that’s fine – I have other things to do, and I’m already feeling a little bored and battered by board-by-board board-and-batten…