Don’t close your 401(K)

So the UK voted to leave the EU, key political figures resigned, North Ireland and Scotland might want to leave the UK, and the stock market went into a free fall. What does it all mean? I don’t know, and nobody does. But don’t panic and close your 401(K) or move all the money into bonds.

I’ve seen this before.

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Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The Department 56 product line is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and “Department 56 scale” is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

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Convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars

Borrowing materials and models from other hobbies can often be productive, and in the early stages of a hobby, often it’s a necessity due to a lack of products available. But it occurs to me that other hobbies borrow from model railroading more often than the other way around, and that means there are untapped resources available. To do that, you need a way to convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars.

In that spirit, I present a chart of scales. Two neglected train scales, O and S, it turns out, can borrow heavily from elsewhere to make up somewhat for the greater selection of products available for HO and N scale. But this chart will, I hope, prove useful to other hobbyists as well.

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Use F.lux to help yourself sleep better

I was listening to a podcast when the talk went off on a tangent, to a utility called F.lux. Whoever was talking made it sound like it was just for one platform, so I went looking for an alternative for Windows, given that merely 90.53% of us use it. The answer was F.lux! F.lux is also available for Linux, for what it’s worth. So I downloaded it.

The concept is simple. The lighting on our screens can interfere with our sleep patterns, so F.lux adjusts the screen based on what time it is, so that it interferes less.

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How the Amiga could have lived to age 30 and beyond

It was 30 years ago this week that Commodore released its landmark, long-time-coming Amiga 1000 computer–the first 1990s computer in a field full of 1970s retreads.

Yes, it was a 1990s computer in 1985. It had color and sound built in, not as expensive, clunky, hard-to-configure add-ons. It could address up to 8 megabytes of memory, though it ran admirably on a mere 512 kilobytes. Most importantly, it had fully pre-emptive multitasking, something that previously only existed in commercial workstations that cost five figures.

It was so revolutionary that even NBC is acknowledging the anniversary.

Being a decade or so ahead of its time was only the beginning of its problems, unfortunately.

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Meet Waze, the crowdsourced GPS

I’ve read a few things here and there about Waze, a crowdsourced GPS that runs on smartphones, including those that run Android, Apple, and Windows. Its premise is simple: Based on how traffic is moving, it figures out the fastest way to get where you want to go. It adds intelligence to the GPS.

The trade-off, of course, is that it’s tracking you too. The data is anonymized, they promise, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a showstopper.

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Worried about the wrong things? It’s always the wrong thing.

Guy Wright’s piece titled Internet Security: We were worried about the wrong things is a bit old but it’s an important point. Security is a moving target. It’s always a moving target.

I disagree, however, with the assertion that SSL (and its successor, TLS) were a waste of time.

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Gesso: Brushable, non-toxic primer

The best time to paint figures is when it’s over 50 degrees, because the first step is spraying them with a coat of primer, which requires a temperature of above 50 degrees. The problem is that when it’s that warm, that’s when you’re busy keeping up the yard and other stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could prime your figures with something safe to use indoors?

It turns out you can. I’ve searched years for a brushable, non-toxic primer (preferably acrylic and water-based). Such a thing exists; I was just calling it the wrong thing. What you need is called gesso. You can order it online from Amazon or Wal-Mart, or you can buy it in craft stores like Michael’s, Jo-Ann, and Hobby Lobby and use a coupon. If all they have is white, mix some black acrylic paint in with it (which you can get there as well) to darken it. Or mix in any other color you wish.

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Another creative source for S gauge figures: Liberty Falls Americana

In the 1990s, there was a brand of collectible village called Liberty Falls Americana, made by a company called International Resource Services and sold in department stores. The figures are stamped “IRS” on the bottom. The product line consisted of porcelain buildings that are close to HO scale, but the figures are pretty close to 1:64 S scale.  Made-to-be-collectibles tend not to hold their value very well, which means they’re still inexpensive today, and not hard to find on Ebay.

Set in the American West in the late 19th century, the figures are passable on a train layout even if your layout is set in a later era. Women in long, formal dresses won’t look out of place near a church, for example. Perhaps there’s a service or a wedding going on. Men in suits and hats work in that setting as well, and men tended to dress much more formally up to the 1950s than they typically do today, so the male figures in suits and hats wandering around the commercial district are perfectly believable on a traditional American Flyer toy train layout.

Then again, if you want Western figures to complement an American Flyer setup featuring a Casey Jones loco, the Liberty Falls figures are the very best thing you’ll find.

Sometimes the figures come painted and sometimes they’re just stained pewter. If you can score some painted figures, of course, they can go straight to the layout. Painting unpainted figures can be part of the fun too.