Saturday, November 27, 2010

Captain Olsen of the H.M.S. Wonganella, a.k.a. Citizen Scientist

The H.M.S. Wonganella was a tired merchant ship appropriated by the Royal Navy for the dangerous task of submarine decoying from 1915 - 1917. Imagine being hit by a torpedo, a portion of the "panic crew" manning the lifeboats  while the rest remain on station, hidden behind camouflaged guns, waiting for the unsuspecting sub to surface before taking the fight to them!
OldWeather is a project to extract weather data from old ship logs. Computers have a hard enough time doing optical character recognition from typed text, let alone flowery 19th century handwriting. I was fascinated by the "human computer cluster" aspect of this project and was naturally drawn to a submarine related boat. It was also of interest that the information was going to be used to improve computer modeling of the weather.

I am currently Captain because I've done the most weather extractions for that ship. The ship just left Malta (January 1916) bound for Spiza, Italy. I'm also a Lieutenant on the sloop H.M.S. Bluebell. In addition to weather and location, we annotate people, ships, and events which will make the data useful for historians as well.

I had read a bit about "Q"-boats, as the submarine decoys were known, regarding their operation in WWII, but didn't realize that type of trickery began in WWI. Interested in learning more, I found a couple of books on line, one of which mentions the H.M.S. Wonganella and two unsuccessful tangles she had with German U-boats.

So, not only am I having a fun time learning about history, weather, and geography, I'm helping out a research project! Win-win-win. I just need to recruit a few Runescapers and Farmvillers to help. And don't tell the crew of the Wonganella I'm a submariner or they might turn on me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

What in the World is a Word Cloud?

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide (this blog in this case). The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Merit Badging

 I got invited back to help with the Railroad Merit Badge clinic this year.

 Roy Severn has a nice O-scale setup he lets the boys run. First they have to learn about car types, train types, and how locomotives work. They also have to plan a trip by Amtrak using real time tables.

Here is an example of scales I set up, with my N-scale loco on the left and Roy's O-scale on the left. The center is the more popular HO. There are also smaller scales (Z) and larger (G)!

 After work comes play. Roy teaches wiring and operations while I show them how to switch out the mill.

New this year was my switching puzzle program. It took this crew eleven minutes to solve a Timesaver. Nobody was able to finish a 5-3-3 Inglenook, which is a bit tougher than Dawson Station. You can "gauge" the difficulty for your self at my switching puzzle page.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Make your own font?

I've never been able to find a good handwriting font. So, I made my own. Give it a try at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dawson Station in the Walthers 2011 N & Z Scale Catalog!

A strange package arrived today. It contained the 2011 Walthers N & Z Scale Catalog, which I didn't remember ordering. I completely forgot I had sent in some pictures for their annual photo contest.

 I was the 2nd Place winner, on page 261. They didn't even pick my favorite shot. These were from my first attempt at extending the focal length by stacking images. In addition to the free catalog, which provides hours and hours of day-dream material, I was awarded $100. The check, signed by Mr. Walthers himself, was for $125. It took reading the small print about the check covering "any additional images" published before I figured it out.

A quick thumb-through found a second photograph on page 83 at the beginning the "Decals" section. That puts a pretty nice feather in my cap. I'm pretty much done promoting Dawson Station. For now it hides high in the garage.