Archive for the ‘trip report’ Category

SITE UPDATE: Transit Day 2009

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I just uploaded photos from my last two trips to Seashore on September 27 and October 10.  They start with number 211 on this page (in the 5th row).  The latter date, btw, was Transit Day, so there was quite a lot happening.  In between regular trips to Talbott Park with 1267 and 434D were two photo runbys at Messerve’s Crossing, featuring 01000/0210 and the train of R9s (the “A train”).  As with last year, I was in charge of the photo line at Messerve’s.  Special rides were done on 01000/0210; the A train; Chicago, North Shore & Milwaulkee interurban car 755; #4 Cambridge-Dorchester car 0719 (making its first trip up the main line in over 25 years); and Wheeling Traction Co. car 639, the latter being for members only, as the shop is still doing finishing touches to it.  There was also some stuff involving the buses and trackless trolleys, but I paid little attention to that.  Although the day started off rainy when I left Boston, the rain had stopped by the time I reached Portsmouth, NH and the clouds gradually cleared away during the day.  The only downside was that my camera’s battery died around 3:30PM, so I missed a few opportunities for shots.

The photos in this update are also the first ones from my new Panasonic ZS3 that I’ve uploaded. The ZS3 replaces my old Canon SD400, with which I’ve become dissatisfied over the years. The new camera takes better photos, with noticeably less noise at higher ISO speeds. It also has a bunch of features which outclass all comparable cameras from Canon, particularly the ability to set a minimum shutter speed to use and to optically zoom while shooting video. It can shoot video at 720P, although the quality is relatively poor.

SITE UPDATE: Wasn’t expecting to see that…

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I was rather surprised today when I went into Boston to pick up work for next week from CTPS to find Boeing LRV 3448, the track geometry car, parked on the siding on the outbound platform at Boylston.  Usually 3448 buried in the yard at Riverside, making it difficult to get shots of it.  I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of its unusual location by getting plenty of close-up shots; it’ll probably be gone by tomorrow.  A few of those shots can be found here.  Interestingly, the interior of the car is mostly intact from its days in regular service, with most of the seats still in place.  Only in the A end did they remove some seats to install the systems for scanning the track. 

I did some more railfanning last Saturday with my friend Bernie, mostly on the Blue Line.  I’ve added some shots from Airport and Suffolk Downs to my Blue Line pages.  While we were at Suffolk Downs, we came across a much younger railfan out taking videos of the trains with his dad.  Hopefully he’ll stay interested in trains.  Later on we headed to South Station, where I caught coach 762, which was one of the cars to get shrink-wrapped with the T’s “No.  Brainer.” ad from last summer when gas prices hit $4 a gallon.  I have some photos of that, but due to the backlog of commuter rail photos I need to put up, I haven’t uploaded them.

Transit Day 2008 was fun

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Yesterday was Transit Day up at Seashore Trolley Museum. As you’d expect, I went up there with Bernie to help out. Unlike Members’ Day, which I’ve been told was a letdown compared to previous years, Transit day really was a success. Lots of equipment that is rarely seen or used was brought out, and there were a lot of activities that weren’t part of the normal routine at Seashore. Photos of the day’s events can be found here.

Although I didn’t take any pictures of them, a lot of buses were on display and in operation. Many are part of the museum’s collection, and a few privately-owned ones showed up as well. Several of the buses provided shuttle trips from the visitor’s center over to Highwood.

On the trolley side of things, we arguably had too many cars in service yesterday. 1267, 631, 1700, 303, and 38 (finally back in service) were all running. Of course, the visitor’s center loop is only able to hold three or four cars (depending on whether the first car loads from the front or back), so we had fun all day repositioning cars to keep the track in front of Arundel clear when it was needed by subway cars. I got to run 38 a bit on one such repositioning move. Both controllers on it suck. It’s pretty much impossible to put either one into the first point - I kept skipping over it right into the second point.

The big events of the day were three photo runbys, the first the museum has done in years. Each one featured a different set of subway cars. Each runby followed the same procedure. One of the trolleys (303 for the first two runbys, 631 for the third) would bring photographers out to Messerve’s Crossing, where the runby would occur. After unloading, the trolley proceeded up to Tower 4 (the overhead along part of the line is supported by towers instead of lineside poles) to change ends and wait for the conclusion of the runby. Once everyone was in position at Messerve’s (most people stood on the platform there, while a few adventurous souls went a short ways up or down the line), the dispatcher was informed that the subway cars could be sent from the museum. The cars would make one pass by the photo line heading north, change ends at Tower 2, and then make another pass heading south back to the museum. Then the trolley would return from Tower 4 and bring everyone back to the museum. After the first two runbys, people could then ride the subway cars they had just photographed out to Biddeford Switch (at the entrance to the loop at Talbott Park) and back. The third time, because of time constraints the subway cars only made one trip, so people could either ride the cars or be in the photo line at Messerve’s.

The first runby was at noon and featured Boston El cars 0210 and 01000. This runby was quite successful, with the cars flying by Messerve’s. The next one, at 2:00 wasn’t quite as good. The R-22/R-33 set (aka “Redbirds”) came up from the museum quite slowly, and almost stopped at Messerve’s after pulling down the power station, which they did a second time before getting up to Tower 2 to change ends. The return trip was much better, and I got a video of that. It was later determined that the reverser on one car was broken, so it was actually trying to go in the opposite direction. The third runby, which was at 4:00, featured the museum’s R-9 set from New York City, which is often called the “A train” after the destination sign on the front. This one I opted to ride instead of photograph, figuring that I have a better chance of getting photos of it in the future than I do of riding it.

Although they seriously impacted the regular trolley schedule and presented some additional though minor organizational problems, the runbys went off quite successfully. I feel it would be a good idea to make runbys a semi-regular part of the museum’s normal operating schedule, as well as do them at other places on the line (the curve near the end of the line would be a good place). Not only could they bring more visitor’s to the museum, they would also be a good excuse to pull out rarely used equipment.

The only other things of note yesterday were that the Gibbs car made some runs back and forth on the Butler Grove lead, and there was a line car demonstration.

wow, I’m way behind on updating this

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Wow, I’ve fallen way behind on updating the blog.  First up, I have a few photo updates.  I’ve added a ton of new photos of Seashore Trolley Museum, starting halfway down this page.  I also have some new photos from Greensboro, starting with the last six on this page

I’ve been quite busy this summer up at Seashore, going up every 2-3 weeks on average.  I’m now qualified on cars 1267, 631, 303, and 1700, and I’m familiar with how to operate the Type 3 snowplows and Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601. The only things I don’t have are the formal pink license card and a name badge. Otherwise I’m a fully qualified motorman/conductor.

Last Saturday was Members’ Day at the museum, so naturally my friend Bernie and I went up. 631, 1267, and 303 were in service as usual, and mail car 108 was also put into service, though for members only as there are no seats on it. Although 1700 is back in service, it was blocked inside Riverside Carhouse by Boston El cars 0210 and 01000, which were placed on Riverside track 2 (the same track 1700 is kept on) so other cars could be retrieved from Central. One of those cars was Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601, which was placed on South Boston track 1 for the day. Double-decker 144 from Blackpool, England, which normally sits in the back of South Boston Carhouse on track 2 was pulled out into the sun for the day. Its exterior has been repainted recently so it looks pretty nice, but the interior and electrical systems still need to be restored before it can operate.

Interborough Rapid Transit “Gibbs” car 3352 was pulled out from Central, and made several runs up and down the Butler Grove Lead. This was the first time it had run in many years, so there was lots of dust and rust flying off its trucks during the first trip it made. Around 3PM the museum’s Smee cars (the R-22/R-33 “Subway Series” cars from NYC) made a trip up the main line as the members-only Banana Split Express, with banana split sundaes being served on board. Yum! With the number of people on board, of course, many didn’t get served until after the train returned to the visitor’s center, but a good time was had by all nonetheless. I opted to get a vanilla and chocolate sundae without the banana.

Later on 108 developed a hotbox just after leaving Talbott Park. There was some discussion as to whether one of the Type 3 plows should be sent out to rescue it.  Fortunately, it was able to coast back to the visitor’s center.  To save time, the crew was ordered to pass non-stop by Morrison Hill, so I was sent out to flag the crossing there, and pick up the paddles from their conductor on the fly.  Now I know what it must have been like to pick up train orders on the fly when railroads still did that.  When 108 was being put away in South Boston I noticed that one of the resistor grids was glowing red hot.  Clearly whoever was running it left it in a point below full series for too long.  

Near the end of the day we tried to do a trip with North Shore Line interurban car 420. First, we had to move the MBTA side-dump car from Highwood track 2 to track 1 so that 420 could get out. Although 420 was blue-tagged with a bad motor, the dispatcher decided to ignore that and we started getting the car ready. We had to spend several minutes playing with the emergency brake valve before the air tank started to charge up. Alas, all that work proved to be for nothing, as it turned out a Brill Bullet on track 3 was sticking too far out for 420 to get by, and we had to put it back in the carhouse after moving it only 150 feet or so.

The last thing we did was take P-601 on a trip to Talbott Park. The car runs fine, but as we discovered, at least one of the controllers has suffered some internal damage and the points are virtually impossible to distinguish. That trip was also interesting because some fairly dense fog had rolled in, so visibility in places was down to only two line poles. After that we left to go home.

I’m now enrolled at Massasoit Community College in their Electronic Technology program. So far the coursework has been utterly unchallenging. Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to graduate and get a real job.

I got a 2G iPod touch back on the 10th. I would’ve gotten one the day earlier when they were announced, but the Braintree Apple Store didn’t have them yet. And when I did get mine, they hadn’t even put any on the display floor - they were still flashing their memory in the back. It’s quite a nice model. The front of course is the same as its predecessor, as is the power button on the top. The polished metal back has a nice curved shape. The cutout for the Wi-Fi antenna is now a black plastic oval, much nicer looking than the rectangular cutout on the previous model. A welcome addition over the old model are the volume up/down buttons on the left side. I’m conflicted on the addition of an internal speaker. While there are times when it’s good to have, there are also times when I wish it wasn’t there.

On the software side, not much has changed since I reviewed the original iPod touch. The major changes include the addition of all the apps the iPhone comes with (phone excluded, of course), plus access to the App Store, which didn’t exist when I did that review. I have discovered a few oddball things that can’t really be discovered by playing with the display units at the stores. First, if music is paused and you unplug the headphones or anything else plugged into the headphone port, it resumes playing the music using the internal speaker. While the last few iPod models (this one included) will pause music when you unplug the headphones, this is the first one I’ve seen that does the opposite. I have no idea if the original iPod touch or the iPhone models do this as well. Regardless, it’s not desirable behavior.

Next, it seems I was wrong about the iPhone firmware displaying every video on the device in a single big list. While it remains true that there are no submenus for the various video types and no support for video playlists (except as a way for choosing what videos to sync to the device, but more on that in a bit), there are in fact submenus for any TV show, artist, or podcast for which there are three or more videos. These submenus sort videos either by newest first, or in alphabetical order if the season/episode tags haven’t been set. I’d prefer the option to sort by oldest first, which is a more natural sorting order.

I had some minor problems getting it to work with our wireless network, mostly due to the router being a bitch and not adding the iPod touch’s MAC address to the list of allowed devices. Once that was resolved, I had some more problems getting the Remote app to work properly. It would allow me to select songs, albums, artists, and music videos to play, but nothing else. After posting a question on Apple’s discussion boards, someone pointed out an oddball setting in iTunes that had to be changed. Remote now works fine.

I’ve purchased a bunch of apps from the App Store. iMatrix takes photos stored on the device and overlays the “raining code” effect from The Matrix on top of them. It looks pretty cool (here’s the original image). A Free Level is essentially the Level demo app available to iPhone developers with some added (and very annoying) sound effects. I have a pair of unit converters, which in fact have different capabilities. Strangely, the one with a thousand different units is missing Kelvin, which the other one does have. FileMagnet replicates the disc mode from other iPods, although it depends on a Mac-only app for moving files onto the device. This doesn’t pose a problem for me at the moment. It also can open a number of file types that the iPhone OS doesn’t handle at all. iResist is a resistor color code calculator - quite useful for my electronics classes. Bubble Snap is one of the several bubblewrap popping games available. iCounter is a basic tally counter - it might be useful for my work at CTPS at some point. Constitution is an annotated copy of the US Constitution - you never know when that might be handy. Flashlight simply turns the entire display to a single color - white is the default when you open it, but there’s half a dozen other colors. Mondo Top 5 is a set of five different versions of Solitaire. After having Solitaire on my last few iPods, I’d miss not having it around. Cannon Challenge is a game that’s little more than a demonstration of projectile motion - you set the angle and speed of a cannon shell and try to hit some targets. I have a pair of calculators, one which includes the programming mode that the built-in calculator lacks (if I ever need to convert between decimal, hexadecimal and binary), and one which is a graphing calculator. Finally, I have the official AIM client. Now if only someone would make an IRC client.

SITE UPDATE: #5 Blue Line cars finally in service

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Today I headed out to the Blue Line to track down the first train of #5 East Boston Tunnel cars to enter service.  0708-0711 entered service yesterday, the first new cars to do so on the Blue Line in 29 years.  I was quite successful in my endeavor.  I caught them with little wait at State and rode them to Bowdoin, out to Wonderland, and finally back to Revere Beach, where I got off to get some photos from a pedestrian overpass near the station.  I had to wait around in the cold there for almost an hour before they returned outbound, and then waited some more so I could get some photos of them going inbound there as well.  I then caught another inbound train, hoping to catch the new cars at Aquarium.  I just missed them there, but while I waited for them to return from Wonderland I got plenty of photos at Aquarium, which I’ve never photographed before.  I must say, the T has done an excellent job refurbishing Aquarium.  It’s brightly lit, allowing for excellent shots even with my slower lens, and the new (false) ceiling gives it a very modern appearance.  It’s definitely one of the best stations in Boston.  After the new cars came back inbound, I again waited at Aquarium for them to return outbound and get a few more shots.  After that, I headed back home, where I warmed up with some hot chocolate.  Photos can be found here, starting with the last two on the page.

I also took a few photos of Revere Beach while I was waiting for the new cars to return there. Here’s a view of the beach looking north. The lamppost was rather interesting. I also thought this apartment complex just north of the station looked kind of interesting, with its blocky profile.

SITE UPDATE: New Blue Line photos

Friday, December 28th, 2007

I went railfanning with some friends today.  Initially, it was just supposed to be me and my friend Bernie, but as we entered State Street on the Blue Line he spotted Stevie, another local railfan that we know, waiting on the other platform.  We got off and joined him, and it turned out he was on his way to meet yet another railfan, Brandon, to do the same thing.  We decided to all stick together for the day. 

Prior to meeting Stevie, Bernie and I spent some time at North Station and Government Center.  At the former, we happened across the ‘double draft’: F40PH-2C 1054 and GP40MC 1124 double-heading a train.  The 1054 has a broken HEP generator, while the 1124 has a broken prime mover, so MBCR double-headed them to effectively create one working locomotive.  At Gov’t Center, we discovered that the Brattle Loop was filled with out-of-service trains (four 2-car trains by my count).  Why they were there so early in the day is a mystery.  There’s a pair of photos of them on the bottom of this page. 

After meeting up with Stevie and Brandon, we spent most of our time on the Blue Line.  Our first stop was Revere Beach, where Stevie led us to a footbridge over the Blue Line that provided some good views of the trains.  We then headed inbound one stop to Beachmont, where we got lunch at a small deli outside the station (they make pretty good roast beef sandwiches, by the way).  Photos from the Blue Line are here (new ones start with the second Scollay Under sign). 

We then made our way back to North Station to hang out for a while.  The Downeaster was in, with a wreath on the nose of the cabbage car.  The double-draft was also back.  Eventually we all left, Stevie to a family dinner, while the rest of us went down to Ashmont (which, in my case, is the same as heading home).  Bernie and Brandon joined me on the trolley there for one stop, getting off at Cedar Grove while I continued on home.  All in all, an excellent day of railfanning.

Family Day at MIT’s Lincoln Lab

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Yesterday Lincoln Lab had an open house for family members of current and former employees on its main campus in Lexington, MA. My grandfather worked there for many years until he retired a decade ago, so he extended the invitation to my dad and I. It took the form of a science fair, with each research group (or a fair number of them, at least) doing a demonstration of whatever it was they were working on. We only visited some of them - there were too many see all of them. I’m afraid they didn’t allow photography, as a lot of research there is done for the government (and is thus classified).

The first exhibit we saw was on thermo-electric systems that can convert electricity to heat or vice-versa. Interesting technology, but not very efficient.

Next there was a display on lasers. One part had a 532 nm green laser shining through a fiber optic cable. Some of the light was absorbed by the fiber and re-emitted at different wavelengths, so that when the beam was sent through a prism it split into a rainbow covering the visible spectrum and a bit on either side of that. Another display at the same table had a red laser (probably 650 nm) shining through a tank of water. Directly opposite the laser was a hole that allowed a stream of water to pour out in an arc that hit a mirror a few centimeters below the level of the laser. The laser beam was carried by the water stream to hit the mirror.

Next was a display on high-speed imaging. They have a CCD sensor capable of taking a million images per second (IIRC), although it’s only used for bursts of a few dozen images.

Next was a display on microchips, which had several microscopes focused on silicon wafers. Always cool to look at those. There were also several tables discussing the fabrication process. One had some blank wafers and a vacuum wand for picking them up.

We then walked through several buildings until we found the scanning electron microscope demo. One was in operation for the demo, so we got to see highly magnified views of a CCD sensor (which looks like the canework on some chairs), a bee, tiny sea creatures, blood cells, and a kind of pollen. The latter was amusing to watch because the electron beam was charging up the pollen particles, which then repelled one another.

From there we headed over to the machine shop. First we saw the rapid-prototyping machine, used to make plastic parts for various things. Sometimes the parts are used as-is, other times they are prototypes for something to be made in a different material. Next we saw a computer-driven milling machine which was making Family Day souvenirs out of aluminum billets. Finally we saw the abrasive water jet cutting machine. As the name suggests, it cuts through materials with a water jet. It can cut through up to 8 inches of solid metal.

Next we saw the room where they assemble circuit boards. Nothing was running at the time, but we could examine the machines used to put solder paste on blank circuit boards (a screen is placed over the board and fancy squeegee rolls over it, depositing the solder where it belongs), place resistors, diodes, and microchips on the board, and the oven used to melt the solder. (I/O connectors are added by hand later.)

We went to see another display that looked interesting, but as the presenter was off at lunch we decided to do the same. They had a pretty good buffet set up outside the main entrance (mmm, sirloin hamburgers )

After lunch we went back to the laser communications demo we had tried to see before lunch. Basically, the data (in this case, an audio stream from a mic) was sent by a laser to a receiver (which was connected to a speaker). Changing the amount of light reaching the receiver dramatically altered the volume of the speaker.

Then we visited the facility’s data center, which was the usual racks of servers and hard drives, providing several gigaflops of processing power and petabytes of RAID-5 data storage.

The library there has the TX-0 in its basement, which was one of the first transistor-based computers. It’s actually quite small - you could fit it into your living room. The design is interesting: many of the components are modular in nature, so a failed board could be replaced in a minute or two. The transistors are also interesting, as it appears they used the same connection interface as vacuum tubes. The main control panel had lights to indicate what was in the registers, quite convenient for debugging programs (back when you wrote everything in machine code). A very interesting machine to examine. Too bad it’s been inoperable for the last quarter-century.

Next we came across a demo of how radar works, using a sodar system (same concept as radar, but uses sound waves instead). A good round of applause is good for jamming sodar systems, BTW.

Finally, we went through a demo of 3D images and lasers. Wearing 3D glasses, we were able to watch a 3D computer model of Manhattan as an imaginary camera flew all over the city. Next to that was a giant multi-touch display table. Unlike the iPhone’s display, you have to wear a wristband connected to the display for it to properly work (the wristband completes a circuit that runs from the display and through your hand and lets it handle input from up to four people at once). Finally there was a big laser display that had the beam bouncing all over a table and then across the room. The latter part I disliked as the beam was at eye level. Although the beam had gone through a lens that dispersed it and made it harmless, this sets a poor example.

We had a wonderful time there. It’s a neat place.