Monday, June 15, 2015

Google’s pain in the arse

I use Liver Writer for this blog. Imagine my surprise having written my first blog for 12 months to find that about a week ago Google changed some settings and locked out everyone (and there are a lot of people using this program) using Live Writer.

What a complete and under pain in the arse.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A different view

Going to tech workshops is a bit like getting fundamentalist religion; people preach at you, show you a shining new future and you go away raving about it to your slightly bored friends (or at least I think that's what happens I’s an Anglican we rarely get that excited).
So to the tech day run by United Positioning Group the Australian distributor of all things Trimble. I actually like hearing about new items and the fun that can be had with point clouds even if I am the only non-surveyor in the room. So coming down from the mountain let me tell you about the fun I had with the UAV’s. 
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or as they are called by the ignorant are drones but they offer a cheap and effective way to quickly obtain aerial imagery and contours by combining GPS technology and cameras to produce digital surface models and orthophoto mosaics in visible light (default camera) or composite infrared light (CIR camera). Trimble offers two the small UX 5 and the X100. Typically they are black and look rather like Thunderbird 2.
Paul Standen UPG’s National Geospatial Manager has been introducing this technology and working through the rules with CASA so that they can operate legally and within safe parameters. This involved licencing the owners of the UAV’s and the operators.
Last years demonstration was aborted due to bad weather this year the clouds parted and Paul offered to pop down to Parramatta Park for a demo. I was keen and with Paul and three others we headed off. “I have a project in Parramatta Park” I ventured, great said Paul I’ll fly that.
Parramatta Park, I should explain, was part of the area that post-contact settlers were moved to in 1789 when it began to be apparent that the sandy soils around Sydney Cove were not suitable to agriculture. Exploration along the Parramatta River found a suitable site at “the Crescent” and a farming community of convicts was quickly established there. Parramatta Park  contains evidence of this early farming activity.
The time from arriving at the site, finding a car park and setting up for a flight was between 15-20min.
Parramatta Park General  003 ed
This is what the area looked like a grassy field with limited surface visibility.
The flying is autonomous that it once it is set up the plane will fly its route automatically and land once done. You don't “fly” the UAV you plan the mission by putting in some parameters and safety options and launch the plane. The UAV flew the mission in 9 minutes.
After retrieving the plan and packing up we went on our way and Paul downloaded that date and processed it in about 30min and had it in a Dropbox file for sharing. I was probably still on the train home.
What did we see -
Well us, and
A series of intriguing marks -  clearly a structure of some sort; various paths and drains and crop marks.
and of course contours
UPG Map contours
I could take Paul’s images and drop them directly into ArcGIS as they were geo-referenced and then overlay some historic aerial over them and do all the other GIS type things.
How cool was that – quick. easy with little set up time and processing time – the costs are well within the budget of an EIS or larger Heritage Assessment. With one flight we saw things which are not readily visible on the standard aerial such as Google Earth.
I have seen the flight Brothers and Sisters , I have seen the flight.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shale Oil Works at Newnes

Newnes, in the Wolgan Valley, was the site of a large scale shale oil production facility which operated between 1906 and 1937. The plant exploited deposits of oil shale or torbanite which were exposed in the sides of the Wolgan Valley associated with coal deposits. The deep valley exposes over 300m of Narrabeen group sediments and underneath this are the Illawarra Coal Measures which had a mixture of coal seams and a seam of oil shale about 60m below the start of the Illawarra Coal measures (i.e. c360m below the top of the valley sides). This seam is found in the Wolgan Valley and in the neighbouring Capertee Valley where the Glen Davis shale oil works were found.


Looking into the Wolgan Valley

Although there was some earlier mining and exploration in the Valley, it was not until 1906 when the Commonwealth Oil Corporation began operations that the shale oil began to be commercially exploited. The Commonwealth Oil Corporation bought the New South Wales Shale Oil Company in 1906 who seem to have had some works erected at Newnes and moved its operations from its site at Torbane and erected an elaborate works and a 51 km long tramway from the Main Western Line at Clarence. The company erected a larger plant at Newnes in 1907-09 with the shale being treated at its Hartley Vale plant from 1906 –1909.

From the start the project was plagued by labour issues (one strike lasted seven months) and lack of capital. There was also the question of imports of “foreign oil” which the company wanted “tariff protection” from. There were also technical problems with the retorts when they were finally completed in July 1911.

Solving the technical problems and continuous industrial problems put an end to the Commonwealth Oil Company as it simply ran out of capital. However the receivers under the technical leadership of Mr John Fell modified the retorts and production slowly was resumed in late 1915.

Production continued until 1922 when the the works closed again this time for good.


The coke ovens of which there were 90 were a success supplying metallurgical quality coke to the Great Cobar refining works and the Hoskins steel works at Lithgow .


This is the remains of the Paraffin sheds (quite what they did I haven't discovered as yet). This was clearly a substantial structure with a reinforced concrete floor.


These are retaining walls around the site of the retorts. the retorts were removed and re-erected at the Glen Davis site.


These are remains of the Naptha plant



The site is owned by NPWS and there is a walking trail and interpretation provided. Here we see members of the Institution of Engineers, Heritage Section reading the sign!!

Where we went

In company with other industrial heritage enthusiasts I inspected the site on the 23rd March 2013 and the site plan shows our track. There is quite a bit to see and lots to understand about the processes on the site. It was a bit difficult to take it all in on one visit especially as it rained just as we got to the site.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Paperclips and photocopies

I have a vast number of photocopies articles probably close to 3000. They have been accumulated over the years while I studied and researched and now seem to form an important and valuable resource. If I was to replace them at todays vastly over inflated prices (especially since most authors got nothing from their original publication) – working at $30.00 per article the value is c$90,000!

But they take up a lot of room, a whole four draw filing cabinet in fact. I have lugged the filing cabinet around with me since Mum bought it for me in 1976. There are also various boxes of notes and copies from my thesis in the garage.

Several months ago I decided to convert the copies into PDF’s. I either use my own scanner or the Libraries free scanner which has a document feeder and can be persuaded to email the PDF’s to my computer (although some emails disappear). On my computer they are saved to a temporary file. Using Lucion Technologies File Centre 7 (Nuances Paper Port was tried but the demonstration version crashed so many times I gave up) I am able to straighten rotate and OCR the files and save them into by folder for Photocopies.

From there Mendeley, which is a free bibliographic database, takes over. Mendeley views the new files and attempts to give them a preliminary record which I manually have to edit and add  details to. Mendeley’s speciality is searching and organising PDF’s which it does a reasonably good job of doing. It is not as sophisticated as End Note but its interface is so much better it’s really easy to add data and save it.

I have managed to clear a draw (the top one as I didn't want the cabinet to become unbalanced.

What is interesting to me the qualities of the paperclips I have used. There are two basic types the metal ones and the plastic coated metal ones. What was surprising is that copies from my thesis – say 12-15 years old, with the metal paperclips often exhibited signs of rust where as plastic coated paperclips are untouched and are being recycled.

I am not sure about the mechanism for corrosion as the copies seem to be dry and stored in a dry place. Could it be the coating on the metal paperclips?

Anyway one moral of this project is always use plastic coated metal paperclips.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Coleraine Junction

One of the problems with modelling railways as a hobby is that unlike model tanks or model ships you really need somewhere to run and show off your models, otherwise they simply sit there taking up space and collecting dust and in any case, why then do you need more than one of a particular wagon or locomotive?

But of course for many of us there is the questions of time and space. Building a model railway requires time and lots of space. We are all familiar with the monster railways featured in  Model Railroader which take up all the basement of a house, are built over a ten year period by the author and a crew of ten “buddies”. Even “small” layouts are 9ft by 13ft (2.74 by 3.96m) or are in N scale.

Enter the “micro layout” concept. "Micro layouts are small model railroads, usually less than three or four square feet in area, that nonetheless have a clear purpose and excellent operating capability." (the late Carl Arendt see

The concept has been around for a while but I hadn't really paid attention as many of the miro-layouts seemed to be a model railway answer to the theological problem of how many angels on a pin – they simply tried to be as miro as possible. However one day I came across Chris Nevard’s  micro layout Polbrock (see his blog site which is at and search the tag cloud for Polbrock). The model is described as “a back of an envelope plan for a 3x1 foot (excluding fiddle yards) micro depicting a fictitious halt and crossing on the Wenford Bridge branch line” ( and he built the baseboard in a box in three hours!

For me the concept is good as the size is right - fits on the top of my bookcases and the time is right – a few days work would get the basic model up and running.

But of course I cannot duplicate Polbrock but what attracted me in the first place was thinking that there was some vague similarity to Coleraine Junction which I had often thought would be interesting to model. Coleraine Junction was where the Coleraine Branch line joined with the main line from Ararat to Portland and was immediately south of Hamilton. About 10 yards further south, the line from Port Fairy and Koroit joined and from the 1950s the engine depot that served Hamilton was located immediately south of Coleraine Junction.


There are a number of diagrams available but this box diagram shows the general arrangement. The trains from Hamilton run under a road overbridge (this would form one edge of the layout)  and the signal box is located immediately south of this on a small bank. The 1966 photo (below) which I guess was taken from the bridge shows the general scene with the lines branching off and the loco depot in the background.

Coleraine Junction in 1966, from the Portland p100

The box would make a pretty model and there would be no shortage of traffic goods and mixed trains mostly and I imagine, quite a flow of light engines to and from the depot. all of which would slowly pass the junction.

There are of course a number of design problems to be resolved – I have a good concept for the Hamilton end but am less clear about how to deal with the trains at the other end, probably a form of selective compression. I am not sure how to align the tracks once they leave the layout. I plan to have the trains run into cassettes in lieu of fiddle yards.

So this is the concept – what is the next stage? I guess the next stage is to rough out a design. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Some photos from the Taipei Railway Workshops

We visited the Railway Workshops as part of the pre Congress tour – the congress being the TICCIH Congress which was held in Taiwan in early November 2012.

As I understand it the Workshops were established by the Japanese colonial administration c1900 and were part of a series of now redundant railway infrastructure forming a heavy rail corridor. The workshops are still open but seem mostly to use used for storage.


It was difficult to get a decent plan but this plan was seen in the works so may be accurate.



There was a large boiler in residence we were told it was from DT  668 but as we saw that loco in steam two days later maybe it was a spare, Here we see Neil Cossens inspecting the boiler.

Later we entered a workshop that contained numerous furnaces and metal working equipment such as steam hammers which we assume was for metal fabrication. The equipment was a mixture of German, British and Japanese origin.


We all expressed the hope that any conservation of the site understood the importance of the contents of the workshop as well as the buildings.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Heavy Metal in the Red House

The Red House in Ximending District of Tiapei was built in 1908 as an emporium to provide a modern market for Japanese goods to the Japanese community and to the Taiwanese as part of the process of trying to assimilate them (Taiwan being a Japanese colony at the time)

The building was designed by Kondo Juro, a western-styled architect in the Taiwanese prefectural civil engineering office at the time, the market entrance, incorporating both octagonal and cruciform shapes, was paralleled by no other in the east and west. The market entrance also took on the ‘eight trigrams (bagua) design considered boldly creative then. Octagon Building, Cruciform Building, and the adjacent South-North Square are now collectively known as ‘The Red House.’

Red House 1 

The interior of the central pavilion is very nice well restored and with excellent interpretive material and displays. The rest of the buildings are used as art space. Most were locked but we gatecrashed one and found a Taiwanese Heavy Metal Band.

Red House 2 They were great. This is what historical buildings should be recycled as!