Monday, 24 January 2011

What lies beneath

The last time I mentioned my model railway on this blog, it was a tale of woe about hamfisted drilling and the sudden and unwelcome mutilation of some of the track.

It took me quite a while to work out exactly how to fix this self-inflicted wound, but I did eventually come up with a workable solution and shortly before Christmas, I successfully cut out the mangled section of track, re-attached the upper layer of baseboard and fitted a new section of rail where I plan to construct a girder bridge.
It was a hell of a lot more difficult to repair than it had been to lay the track the first time around, so to prevent another unexpected separation of the upper layer of baseboard, I've added some extra woodon spacer blocks which are screwed, as well as glued in place.

Now, I don't do New Year Resolutions and I'm particularly wary about trying to stick to any hard and fast regime or daily activity. Anybody that follows this blog will already know how erratic and fickle my level of commitment can be, so I have amazed myself by actually doing something on the model railway every day so far this year.

Of course you'll now be expecting it to be almost complete.

Well, it isn't.

However, the good news is that I've fitted all the point motors and finished wiring them up, which was an extremely finicky process. I've also made a start on the operator control panel

Here's a quick peek at what lies beneath the baseboard. A handfull of point motors and a bunch of multicoloured wires.

I guess it may not seem like a lot of progress, but it is a strangely satisfying way to pass the time.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

This is not like watching paint dry...

As some of you were less than overwhelmed by the excitement of watching  snow dribbling out of a radio telescope, I thought you might find this slightly more stimulating.

If you haven't heard of Scottish street trials rider Danny MacAskill before, you may be astonished at not just his skill as a bike rider, but his seeming lack of anything like fear or an appreciation of the possibility that something could go horribly wrong.
You'll probably be unsurprised to learn that he is sometimes known as Danny MegaSkill.

"Remember kids, Don't try this at home..."

Monday, 3 January 2011

Not my turn in the spotlight

This evening, BBC Television will be broadcasting the first of a three night series called "Stargazing Live". These programs will be shown at 8 pm, on BBC2 and will be hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain, live from Jodrell Bank.

I haven't seen the Control Room in so much turmoil since we had the film crew from "The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy" doing a two day shoot a few years ago. In front of the Control Desk the set design team has built a raised area and a pair of platforms for large, plasma display screens. There are an array of studio lights strung from the ceiling, various microphones in strategic places, lighting control panels, audio mixers and all the miles of cable that go with them.
The rest of the main building is festooned with temporary signs and arrows pointing the way to the Production Office, Makeup, Green Room, Rehearsal Room and Dressing Rooms. Outside the building there's the kind of circus that always accompanies this sort of undertaking.
There's the "Gallery Truck", with an enormous articulated trailer which houses the outside broadcast control room. This appears to be one of those origami vehicles where the walls extend in all directions creating an internal working space that would otherwise be impossible to achieve. It's probably as close as you can get to having an actual TARDIS.
There are lighting trucks, satellite communication vans, catering trucks, a marquee laid out with tables for refreshments, portable toilets, generators, water bowsers, a mobile security post and a bunch of other non-specific vans.

The thing that's difficult to believe is that when I finished my shift yesterday morning, none of this stuff was here. As I walked out of the Control Room, the set designer and his team had just pulled up outside the Main Building.
While I was at home asleep, the place was transformed.

It's just the luck of the draw which of the six controllers gets which shift when this sort of event is on.
I can't decide whether or not to be disappointed that I'm not on-shift for all the fun and games. It's always interesting to be behind the scenes and watch how media stuff works, but it can be quite stressful too. We cannot afford to let the artistic demands of the TV crew influence any operational decisions about the way the telescope is driven. There's always the chance that you'll have to tell the director that he's not going to get his preferred shot of the telescope positioned low to the horizon because the wind is too strong.
As you can imagine, that doesn't go down too well, but it's better than breaking the telescope.

Anyway, if you were hoping to catch a glimpse of me actually working you are going to be out of luck. Your Controller for Monday and Tuesday evening's shows will be Jock, and on Wednesday it will be Andy.

 "We are in control...": Andy and Jock are second and third from the left, respectively.