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photo of my old gray tabby cat, Tootes


   Bit Tricks and Web Site Humor

   Like everything around me, this site is scratch-built too. Yep, I coded the whole thing myself, in XHTML. What the heck is that, you say? Some sort of strange language spoken by bit-twiddlers in cyberspace. I only mention this because it reflects
my do it yourself philosophy, that carries over into my line of Hydrocal model railroad structure kits and castings. I've done them all myself too.


    Not that Internet Exploder is the greatest web browser- but this site was carefully built to best be viewed there. Unfortunately, all web browsers are not built the same and it looks pretty ackward with Netscape Navigator. That's what happens when you don't follow the rules of simple HTML.

A History of Crow-puting

    My father, a retired electrical engineer, took up personal computing as a hobby in the early 80's. That all but makes him a pioneer. I remember just ten years before this, while I was a senior in high school, we had these computer classes. Not like the PC's of today, this, then state of the art, monster was about the size of a refrigerator, had a panel of blinking lights, and we kids would feed our programs into it, written in Basic and typed up on key punch teletype ribbons, the lights would blind and more often than not, the reply would print out, sorry: but not enough memory! The thing was dumber than a simple hand-held calculator. But it was none the less fascinating.

    Oh, but I was talking about my father. A couple of years before this, he helped my sister built a "computer" for her science project. It was a bunch of telephone relays hooked up to switches and more blinking lights. I think it was a four bit binary machine. She got a A. (She always got As!)

    One day he went off with my brother to the Swami. A Mid-Eastern gentleman working in the back alley somewhere in Washington, DC selling computers. My father bought the first of his many PCs. Eventually, such would fall into my hands, as he "upgraded" and could no longer get the old ones to do what he wanted. They worked just fine for me. All I wanted was a fancy typewriter! My father, then known as Dr. DOS, was digging a little deeper. I caught him one day pointing at the screen, it was full of four digit numbers, saying, "there, right there, it is that one, it's not right." I shut the door and backed away quietly.

    I used to use Wordstar to edit my modeling articles and arrange my instructions and catalogs. All I had was a nine-pin dot matrix printer which was hardly good enough for publication so after I used the spell checker (I still depend upon them greatly but note that there are no such tools available for the HTML kit editor I am using to build this site!) I would have to carefully retype the text with a daisy-wheel typewriter and lay it out on over-sized paste-up boards before reducing them with a photocopier. Talk about the dark ages!

    Fortunately for me, my father bought an HP laser printer an I moved up to using Word for Windows, v2.0. and borrowing his printer for a nice clean output.

    Until just recently I was still using the old paste-up boards for most of my work. I liked the control over the font-size and my images, mostly simple pin and ink line drawings. I should have figured this out much sooner but I finally figured out how to scan and manipulate the line drawings as bit maps. So that's how they do that.

    Although Word has been upgraded I have stuck with good old version 2.0 because it does all of the things I really want it to do and Word 97 for some foolish reason doesn't offer me all the increments of font size that 2.0 does. How do you call that an upgrade?

    In the winter of 2000 I built the Wolf Creek Saloon kit, my first in O-scale, or Cr"O"w Scale as I call it. The model looked so great I decided that I would go out on a limb and advertise it with a full-page color ad in the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette. Not only does this cost a lot of money but you have to generate the ad copy. To do that you can pay an agency or, if you are like me you can do it yourself. But how?

    The Gazette only accepts electronic ads in certain forms. Word is not one of them. However, among the choices was Pagemaker which my father happened to have. Cool, so lets use that.

    I won't go into the many steps it took to come up with the photos but it all came down to having three days to learn Pagemaker and produce the final ad copy. No problem, right? I could probably type it up in Word and drop it right in, right? Sure. No, not so sure. So these things have tutorials, right? Right. So how does this thing work? The first day I figured out what I could do and made notes on what I couldn't do, but wanted to do. The next day I cheated a little bit and visited the Mukilteo library and sped-read Pagemaker for Dummies, especially noting how to correct those problems I had run into. At first I hated the thing but after figuring out how to do it I am sort of intrigued with the absolute control it offers.

    The next day I shipped off a zip disc with the ad as well as attempting to upload it through my poky modem to Gazetteland. Everything was going great, it said it would take about five hours (these were big files!) and it was clicking away so I went to bed. In the morning however I learned that the only two of the five files had gone through. So much for the electronic age. Something about AOL not accepting files over a certain size. Guess I didn't read the fine print. So, can I compress these or something? Probably so but the zip disc was on its way.

    In this exercise I learn several important things. Until this point the different types of image files was sort of a mystery. The Gazette wanted 300 dpi for their final size, for publication, thus their large size. My friend Glenn, who helps me with my brass casting, purchased a modest 35mm slide (color transparency) scanner with 1800 dpi maximum resolution. Thus you can calculate that you can blow up a 1" x 1.3" 35 mm image to 6" x 7.8" at 300 dpi. You can go about twice that size and print it on your bubble jet with pretty nice results. But go larger and it starts to block up.

    As a sidebar, this led me to understand and hopefully correctly practice the different types of image files. Those .jpegs, .tif, .jpg, bit maps, resolution, dots per inch, pixels, all that fuzzy stuff is slowly coming into focus. It is still a bit of a guess. I'm not happy with how the photos look, intentionally keeping the image files small so they will load quicker on home modems. It is a compromise I'll have to tweak.

    The next step was to print out the color ad as a color label for the kit. Most of my HO kits have simple black & white labels but I wanted the O-scale kit, as a limited run, to have something special. I learned that the paper is the key to the image. Funny, the more expensive the paper the better they look. The kit included some bar room advertising and even some nude pictures (what decent saloon wouldn't have at least one of these) that I print out on expensive glossy paper and the label's printed on a semi-matte. It took a lot of experimentation to figure this stuff out right.

    I really expected the full page color ad to do the job. After all I was only doing 125 kits. I had already sold 25 just on word of mouth and a tiny teaser ad. Another hundred would go fast once they saw the photos. Wouldn't they? Well, I sold more kits but I didn't sell out. Sure it is an expensive kit but it is not over priced. Not only is a beautiful set of Hydrocal castings but it the model is packed full of details. I don't know what more you would want. Well, it is my first O scale kit and sells have been okay. It just wasn't the fire I was expecting. After all, O-scalers for years have been telling me I should do something for them. I suspect as word gets around we'll sell a few more of these.

    I had always thought that the power of the Internet was its ability to connect products to the masses. If you manufactured something that everyone needed here was the way to sell it to them. With my limited numbers plus the fact that my customers are not only just model railroaders, but very specific ones, as to scale, era, prototype and subject- well, having a web site on the Internet would be overkill. I didn't think it would help me much.

    Obviously my thinking has changed. For years I have been printing out these dumb little 32 page hand-illustrated photocopied catalogs. Each time I update it it takes me several days. The printing are usually just a couple of hundred copies. It cost me more than the dollar I ask for them to print and mail. And I just don't know how effective they are. After all, there are no color photos or close-ups and with the crude illustrations how does anyone know that my stuff isn't like any of the other junk out there. What makes this stuff so special?

    Well, for much less than that color ad costs me I can take my little catalog and expand it to include close-ups, color photos, longer write ups and all sorts of other things that will help you understand how special these castings and models really are. Hopefully you will agree and buy lots of them. And maybe all this hard work will pay off.


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