by Thomas Beutel

I’d do a VR tour of historical San Francisco

As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I’m less and less interested in VR. Now, I must say that I haven’t experienced much VR to begin with, but I’m finding reality much more interesting each day.

Sure I can play a VR fishing game and catch a bunch of fish. But it’s not the same, and in any case, you can’t eat a VR fish.

That said, there is one type of VR that I would love to experience, and that would be historical recreations. I think it would be beyond cool to walk the streets of San Francisco of say, 1944. Sign me up for that!

The Spark-Joy Heuristic

Marie Kondo suggests in her tidying book that we should look at all of our stuff all at once and only keep those things that still spark joy in our hearts. I’ve been thinking about this and I’m finding different ways to apply this, not just in service of tidying but in other areas as well.

What I really like about her phrasing is that is isn’t just what makes me happy, or brings joy, or might be useful someday. It’s the sparking, the effervescence, the electricity that makes the phrase so compelling to me.

Now that I’m aware of it, it’s become easier now for me to say yay or nay to things. I recently was at a very nice restaurant perusing a menu. I thought of Marie and looked for the spark that each prospective dish generated inside. And there was one that really sparked. I ordered it and boy was it good!

Army Hospital Trains at Crissy Field

I go fishing at Crissy Field at least once a week and I often think about some of the fascinating history of the field. During WWII the Army had built a long 4 track yard to stage hospital trains. You can see pictures of the yard at this link. The yard was situated just north of Old Mason Street, roughly where the lagoon is now.

An article about Letterman hospital summarizes the activity of the time (emphasis mine):

A report at the end of 1944 stated that Hospital Train Unit Service Command Unit (SCU) 1960 operated as many as four full trains a day out of the Crissy spur. In September Letterman had evacuated 6,000 patients by train and expected the number to climb to 8,000 in October. The Surgeon General had stationed forty hospital train cars at San Francisco and planned to increase the total to 111.

It’s pretty amazing to think that four full length passenger trains arrived and departed every day. They had to trundle past the Marina, through the tunnel under Fort Mason and then along the Embarcadero before they were transferred to the Southern Pacific. Here is picture of just such a train at the Marina.



At first the Army contracted Pullman to convert existing Pullman sleepers into troop hospital cars. Pullman eventually built new hospital cars that could be converted to regular service after the war. Models of these troop cars are available in HO and other scales. Rivarossi also produced an HO-scale model of the USATC S100 class switcher that was used at Crissy Field.

I only have one hospital Pullman and an army bunk car, but one of these days my goal is to bring some of my models out to photograph them in natural sunlight with the bridge in the background. These two photos are my guide. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background of the first photo.


Crissy Field USATC S100 5000 with hospital cars

Here are my models, arranged roughly the same. I think they would look great in the sunlight with the real Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

IMG_9986 - Version 2



Getting Vue.js to react on iframe load

I recently needed to pull in a third party form into a page where I was using Vue.js. The form is displayed in an iframe and the adjacent content needed to react to submitting of the form, in this case a header needed to disappear. Here is what I came up with:

data: {
load_count: 0,
display_header: true
hideHeader: function() {
if(this.load_count >= 2){
this.display_header = false;
template:'<div><h2 v-show="display_header">Please register</h2>'
+'<iframe v-on:load="hideHeader" width="500" height="450"'

Note that the hideHeader function will be triggered on the first load as well as all subsequent loads. I added a counter so that the header was changed on the second load, presumably when the form is submitted. It would have been nice to get the actual href of the iframe when it changed but that is not possible when using a form from a different domain.

Influences for the Redwoods and Pacific Railroad

I grew up as a toy train guy. My father started his first layout when I was three years old and growing up with trains meant that it was in my blood by the time of my first memories. His early layouts were not permanent until we moved into a house with a basement, but they were always present. He used Märklin HO scale trains which emphasized automatic operation and I can remember the load roar when he had upwards of 8 trains running at once. Coming from tinplate cars on tinplate track, the sound was not unlike that of many Lionel layouts that I have visited.

It wasn’t until I was 10 years old or so that I discovered model railroading. The first magazine that I picked up from the hobby store was the March 1971 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. The cover feature was a fan trip on John Allen’s fabulous Gorre and Daphetid mountain railroad. I was blown away. The scenery was spectacular and it made the layout seem huge when compared to an equivalent table top layout. That first impression still sticks with me and played a large part in my design of the Redwoods and Pacific Railroad.


Railroad Model Craftsman, March 1971

My railroad is a fictional railroad loosely themed on both the Northwestern Pacific and the Southern Pacific Santa Cruz mountain line. When I designed the railroad, I wanted to emulate certain aspects of John Allen’s layout, in particular the dramatic floor to ceiling scenery. My goal was not to copy John Allen, but to use some of his techniques in expanding the visible. I’m happy with how it’s turned out so far.


The great canyon of the Redwoods and Pacific Railroad

The other main influence is Malcolm Furlow’s San Juan Central. This was a project railroad that was published in Model Railroader and then later as a soft cover how-to book. Malcolm was also influenced by John Allen’s work, and he showed how to create a dramatic model railroad from start to finish. My first version of the RPRR was actually a loose interpretation of the San Juan Central right down the modular benchwork. I learned a lot from building that layout and many of Malcolm’s tips and techniques were used in creating the current layout.

The Redwoods and Pacific is still under construction. I tinker on it most evenings (it is the perfect vehicle for tinkering!). I don’t have any planned finish date, in fact that really isn’t my goal. I like that it is a work in progress and that I can work on it whenever the mood strikes me.

Muse Plushies

I have three plush toys that sit behind my keyboard, Prickles the hedgehog, Spike the stingray, and Scarlet the octopus. They are muses of sorts and help me as I work.

Prickles represents persistence and helps me to stay focused even when the work gets difficult. Prickles has a very earnest face. It is the one I talk to when I need to explain a programming conundrum. Most often, just the act of explaining something helps me find the solution or see a bug that I wasn’t seeing before.

Spike represents creativity and I call on it for creative encouragement. Spike has an assertive look and is brightly patterned almost like a leopard. It reminds me set my inner critic aside and look at the world in new and different ways. Its motto is there is more than one way to do it.

Scarlet represents permission and I call on her when I’m truly blocked or I’m feeling a lot of resistance. I imagine her squeezing through small spaces and able to go anywhere she wants to. She reminds me to give myself permission to proceed and to be vulnerable.

Together these three help me move forward with my work. I’m curious to know if any of you have muses that sit with you while you work.

Amazon Prices

I’m shopping for a scroll saw. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a basic one for cutting shapes from 1/4-inch plywood for my model railroad. I settled on a $72 model that I’ve been looking at on Amazon and I finally decided to buy it. Whoops, it went up $15 in one day. What happened?

I’ve been aware for a while about Amazon’s dynamic pricing, so I figured I would see if there was a website that tracks prices. That lead me to find I found out that the scrollsaw has been priced as high as $125 and as low as $55, all in the span of a few months. Wow!

So I can wait. I’m not really in a hurry. I’ve set a price target of $74. Let’s see if it goes down in the next couple weeks.


I’ve been doing it now every day for a little over a week. Seth Godin says that after six weeks you will appreciate the benefits. It will change you because you will be thinking about the next topic to blog about. I think what he means is that it changes your perspective on the world because it focuses you on making assertions and predictions and not just passively observing it. OK, I’m game. I’ll give it six weeks.

Tinnitus lets me hear my heart

I’ve had a form of tinnitus for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why I have it. Genetic perhaps? Inner ear damage? Too many fevers as a kid? I don’t know.

But it isn’t the type of tinnitus that is at all distracting. In fact I don’t really hear it unless I pay attention to it. And what I do hear is the pulsing of my heart. Normally it’s just a very quiet shhhhh, shhhhh. If I am exercising, it’s more like a higher pitched sizzle sizzle. No matter what the pace or the pitch, it’s always there.

And for me, that’s quite comforting. I can hear how my heart is doing. I know it seems weird, but I’ve had some episodes of palpitations (yes, I’ve seen the doctor about them) and I can hear the palpitations. More importantly I can hear when the beats go back to normal.

So I’ll be sticking with my tinnitus. I think of it as my auxiliary internal heart monitor.


A while ago I picked Marie Kondo’s book on tidying. I haven’t followed her prescriptions to the letter, but I have found her instructions to be immensely useful.

The most important result that I have had is that once I tidy a room or space, it stays tidy. A big part of this is making sure that I have one and only one place for all of my things. Now that I’m clear where everything belongs, it’s so much easier to stay tidy. There is no barrier to keeping a room tidy because I know exactly where everything belongs.

It sounds like an easy thing, but I’ve been messy since I was a kid. So for me it’s a major change. And a welcome one.