A New Era?

I am a big Train Sim fan and especially like Dovetail Games’ “Train Simulator 2015.” I have a lot of routes and content for that particular game.

However there is another very popular Train Sim game out there called Trainz – it’s made by an Australian developer called N3V Games.

The most recent stable release of this game is Trainz 12. However N3V is working on the next generation of train simulators called Trainz – A New Era (TANE.) They are having some issues and keep pushing back the final release date. However you can get a good deal on a prerelease order at Steam (20% off with lots of promised extras.) So I decided to give it a try. There is a beta version you can play with while waiting for the final release and I have done so.

The next generation of Trainz will have a fully capable graphics engine that uses DX11 and multicore processors (unlike Train Simulator 2015 which is about 5 years behind the times in this regard.) It’s said that there will be a lot more eye candy with TANE (shadows, rain effects, more realistic scenery.) I suppose we’ll see.

Right now I see some very different characteristics between Train Simulator and Trainz. Train Simulator appears to concentrate more on driving locomotives and Trainz is more of a route building and model railroad type of game. As an example I outline how to choose a QuickDrive operation in each simulator. That’s just using a train to explore a route.

In Train Simulator 2015:

  • Choose a route
  • Choose a train
  • Drive

In Trainz:

  • Enter Route Building Mode
  • Lay some track
  • Choose a locomotive and cars and place them on the track
  • Use the Consist selection tool to name and save your train
  • Save your test route and exit
  • Enter Drive Mode.
  • Choose a route
  • Find your consist in the New Trains window
  • Find a spot and place the train on the track
  • Choose a driver (a number of fake people are available)
  • Drive

Just a bit more complicated. Once you drive, Trainz has the option of an easy or realistic mode the same as Train Simulator. The Realistic modes are slightly different but Trainz has some excellent driving tutorials to help with this.

Right now I would say Train Simulator still has the edge. Graphics are better even though TS uses an older graphics engine. There is a lot more download content available for TS 2015 – either from the developer or third parties. It’s more realistic although in both cases you know you are dealing with virtual reality.

Both simulations require a powerful computer. I have a quad core i5 and a pretty good graphics card and I just barely qualify for the “recommended” setup in both programs.

I’m looking forward to the developments in Trainz – A New Era and I can also learn a bit about model railroading on the PC so I figure getting TANE at a discount was a good deal. I’ll still play Train Simulator though.


Income Inequality

It’s been over 45 years since I started my career in industry as a newly minted graduate chemist, but it seems a world away in societal terms.

I began work in a research department of a major food company that was located right next door to a big bustling food factory. The products we developed were upscaled and produced right there.

Many of the folks working in the plant were moderately talented and educated individuals (Grade 10 was common, a few finished Grade 12.) Yet in most cases they were earning a larger paycheck than I was after 4 years of a tough university regime. Some of my professional colleagues resented this fact but I never did. In the long term I knew I’d do better, and besides these people paid taxes and built up the community the same as I did. It was good for the town and good for business.

Today both the R&D facility and the factory are gone. The opportunity for a decent blue collar income went with them. The story is much the same in many cities and small towns in Ontario and Quebec. If you consider that these jobs made up the foundation of the middle class in Canada, it’s no wonder this class has been hollowed out.

I recently read a TD Economics report about Income Inequality (and Wealth Inequality for that matter.) It’s a sobering document.

The same forces that have devastated the middle class in the US apply here, namely:

  • Technological Change. There is a rotation from labor to capital when it comes to industrial production. That was easy to see even 10 years ago when I was still in the workforce. Productivity increases, jobs decrease with it. A computer replaces a machine operator.
  • Globalization. Do the R&D in North America but when it comes to production, move to a lower cost venue in Asia or Latin America. No factory jobs left in Canada.
  • Competition for top talent. The very high skilled jobs get paid more and this seems to be the way of the future. But there aren’t going to be many of them compared to what was out there in the 1970s.

So far Canada appears to be trailing the US a bit in these trends, but we are closely partnered with our Neighbor to the South so we can’t escape them completely. Our international companies will just relocate to “right to work” states in the US. I’ve seen that happen recently with Unilever as they are closing the factory in Brampton I worked in for 20 years.

One reason Canada has not had the same issues with income and wealth inequality as the US has (so far) is the fact that commodity production and real estate growth here have kept more of our middle class workers on the job. However both of those uptrends appear to be ending, or have ended.

TD Economics argues that income inequality has a bad effect on the economy and the underlying society – both in terms of current living standards for the majority, and the future opportunities for our children and grandchildren. I agree, but the solutions to the problem are not that easy to come by. Rather depressing thoughts on a cold January day.

Death Watch

Perhaps you have heard that Target’s entry into Canada has been a spectacular failure and they are closing all 133 of their stores, laying off nearly 18000 staff and retreating south of the border.

We were sorry to hear this as we enjoyed shopping at the Smiths Falls Target. It may not have been equivalent to a US store but it seemed to us to be OK. There were always good deals on bedding and kids clothes at least, and the people were friendly.

We had a gift card from Target so we thought we had better use it quickly. We visited the store today and the death watch was obvious. Store shelves were getting bare and the place had the look of a dying Kmart my son-in-law and I visited in Syracuse a couple of months ago.

However there were no distress prices in evidence – although we did get some bargains on kids flannel sheets and toys left over from Christmas. Electronics and general merchandise were still at their regular prices.

The checkout lady had trouble giving us the shelf advertised sale prices because the management was no longer keeping up the scanner information. She told us it would still be a couple of weeks before the final clearout started, and a couple of months before they close for good. The Starbucks was busy with high school kids, but I understand it’ll be closed permanently as of tomorrow.

We have concluded that our next visit to Target will be when we do some cross border shopping at a US store. Too depressing to go back to one in Canada.

Loco Fantasy

When my Windows 7 install crashed in December 2014 I had to reinstall all my programs including my Train Simulator 2015 files. I lost all my custom train consists, so I had to make new ones to play the game properly.

I took advantage of the disaster to create a few new trains that probably never existed in real life. Here we see a big ugly old LMS 7F freight loco sitting at Settle station. Instead of a bunch of coal wagons or boxcars, it is heading up a set of articulated teak coaches designed by Sir Nigel Gresley for the rival LNER. So wrong engine, wrong train.

Instead of a sleek passenger locomotive hauling these carriages at 70 MPH or more, they’ll be lucky to get up to 35 MPH with the freight loco doing the work. Sir Nigel would not be amused.


Just Another Day in IT

Since I moved to Almonte, I have embarked on a second career as unpaid IT technologist for the seniors in my neighborhood. It keeps my mind sharp and I get the occasional free coffee out of it so I suppose it’s worth my time.

Today was a typical day with a couple of my “Clients.”

Client #1 – Install new Photo Printer on Windows 7 All in One

This client had a small Canon Selphy photo printer which ceased functioning, so she sent her husband off to Staples to replace it, and he came home with a newer but similar model.

  • Client #1 had removed the old printer from the list and uninstalled the driver so that saved a bit of time.
  • I had hoped to use the old printer’s USB cable but Canon has changed the connection from conventional printer USB to mini-USB, so the old cable would not work.
  • Fortunately the new printer was wifi capable and Client #1 has a wifi network, so after some futzing around with SSID and passwords I got it connected.
  • Installed the Windows driver and after putting in the photo paper the printer did its job. Task complete.

Client #2 – Fix eMail and Subsequent Issues

Client #2 has a Compaq desktop from 2007 or so running Windows Vista. He was complaining that he got two copies of every email when he downloaded it using the Windows Mail program that comes with Vista. I suggested maybe he could just read the mail with his browser but he has two email accounts and likes to get them together with Windows Mail.

  • As I suspected the accounts were keeping a copy of the emails on the POP3 server after download so he got each email twice.
  • After removing the option to keep emails his personal account was downloading one copy of the email but his business account wasn’t downloading anything even though the mail was showing up in his browser.
  • Checked settings and his business email account was also set up to receive from his personal account. Changed the settings to reflect reality and now he is getting one copy from both accounts.
  • Noted a lot of crapware on his machine – Conduit Search, Ask Toolbar, Film Fanatic – so I ran a Malware Bytes scan and removed 400 pieces of malware. After getting rid of Film Fanatic from Chrome, it’s all good again.
  • Uninstalled a particularly dumb piece of software called HP Advisor that slows things down and puts an ugly dock at the bottom of his screen.
  • After all this Vista runs a bit better but I wouldn’t want to have to reboot it very often. Oy…

After all this I continue to believe that computers are too difficult for most seniors to manage properly.



Buy? Build?

I have two primary desktop computers on the go right now. One is pre-built (Acer Veriton with Windows 7 Pro) and one is home-built (Linux Mint 17.)

There is lots of information out on the Web about whether you should buy a prebuild desktop or buy your own, so I’ll just add some personal comments about which way to go.

  • Have exact requirements? Best to roll your own then. With a prebuild you can specify the exact model of CPU, motherboard, case, hard drive etc. I wanted a particular AMD processor in my home made machine and the rest followed on.
  • Want to save money? Dollar for dollar the home built unit can be cheaper but likely you’ll just spend the difference on better components like a solid state drive.
  • Want Windows 8? You are going to get that with any new prebuild. You’ll also get a lot of crapware (although less if you go with a commercial grade unit.) You’ll likely pay less for your Windows licence, but you will have limited flexibility if you have problems and need to reinstall the O/S.
  • Want a warranty and technical support? Well, a prebuild is the way to go then.
  • Want a quality unit that just works? You can get this with a prebuild if you are careful and spend a bit more for a commercial unit. Watch out though. My Acer Veriton has quality components, but its graphics and power supply were wimpy. I had to upgrade the power supply and add a decent graphics card to run my train sim, even though I have a really good i5 processor in the unit.
  • Want to learn something? There is no better way to learn about how a PC works than to build one from scratch. Take advantage of the excellent videos on YouTube and the parts choosing facility of sites like Newegg to get started.
  • Want to run Linux? It’s important to choose a particular processor if you want to run AMD Linux graphics with one of their APUs (a slightly trailing edge one works better.) Your choice of wifi unit will also be important if you want one in the desktop. So is your choice of discrete graphics card (here Nvidia might be a better option.) It seems best to choose a home build here to be sure.

So to sum up, if going with Windows it’s a toss up whether to buy or build (as long as you can modify the prebuild as needed.) For Linux it’s a no-brainer – build your own, avoid the Windows tax and make sure what you have works great with Linux.



Snips and Snails and…

Six years ago on January 20, a sea change occurred in the lives of his parents and grandparents when Teddy was born. It seems like yesterday but seeing him today…wow!

He’s developed into quite a young man it seems. He’s always been a sunny tempered little boy like his mother – with a gentle and sensitive concern for others developing as he grew. Like his grandfather he has an introspective side, and the ability to focus like a laser on things that interest him while tuning out anything that does not. Whether this is a personality bug or a feature remains to be seen.

He has a razor sharp mind and reads at quite an advanced level. He’s satisfied all the requirements for kindergarten already and they are looking for ways to enrich his experience at school. He’s a  tall, thin kid and it’s not because of lack of appetite. He eats like a horse when presented with his favorite foods.

Teddy loves his Grandpa but his Nonna is a particular favorite. He’s a fan of trains and autos and Super Mario. He’s lost a couple of lower teeth as his permanent ones arrive and soon will have that six year old’s Dracula look.

My daughter often says she’s raising her father these days and I suppose that’s true. Happy birthday Teddy and many more!

The Plague

About a week before Christmas I came down with the plague. OK maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole.

What I got was a nasty respiratory virus – not as bad as the flu but certainly a lot worse than a common cold. For two weeks I’ve had a thrumming headache, lots of sucky mucus, general blah feeling and a cough that just won’t quit. At first I was consuming decongestants like Skittles and resorting to the narcotics to sleep at night. Later I weaned myself off codeine but I still needed the DM cough syrup to be able to sleep. I’ve been housebound for those two weeks as well.

I think I’m improving a bit but I still have the cough.

From what I’ve read the flu is out there too, and the flu shot this year offers only limited protection. Got my fingers crossed about that after this bout of nastiness.

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