January 12, 2006: One Year with the CPAP

Today is my one year anniversary of having a CPAP that allows me to actually sleep at night. It is neat that the machine keeps track of its running time so that I have really good information on how much sleep I have gotten over the past year. In exactly 365 days the machine has run for 2272 hours. That is 6.22 hours of sleep per night for the entire year. Isn’t that neat. That number isn’t exactly my sleep number since there have been times when I have fallen “asleep” without the machine but, according to my sleep study, there is no actual sleep during those periods and that is definitely what it feels like in the mornings. But there is also that time being recorded when I am wearing the machine and have no yet fallen asleep or are lying awake with it on in the morning. This could be just a few minutes ranging up to several hours per night. So I think that the sleep number for the year is actually a bit higher than actual instead of lower.

The weather is awesome again today. The sun is shining and it is decently warm. Oreo is loving it. He likes to go out and explore when the weather is like this. Luckily it is still cold enough that he doesn’t want to stay out for really long periods of time.

Okay, so yesterday I was ranting about the failed Rochester Fast Ferry but that is over now and life can move on. Today, though, I have a new topic: the model railroading industry. As many of you know, I have recently been searching for a local model railroading store that specializes in serious model railroading not toy trains. These are distinctly different entities. It is a difference that many people are unaware of but I will not go into that yet as that is actually an important part of my future argument.

In searching for a nice local model train store the only store that I was able to find in the area that catered in any way to the model railroading crowd was Despatch Junction in East Rochester. Now first of all this makes the term “local” have to go a long way. It is a good forty-five minute drive to get to East Rochester from here but I realize that I live a little far out from the city but I do live just twenty minutes from the city’s largest shopping area. Finding a decent model train store should not constitute a serious challenge. But, alas, it has. Even Despatch Junction, where the shop keeper was very nice and helpful, specializes mainly in toy trains and does model trains as a large secondary activity. But this really changes the behaviour of a store. The displays are targetted towards children and it is set up mostly like a toy store. Not a single store that I went to in the entire Rochester region had a single serious model train layout for people to see. A few had some basic displays that showed different scale of trains next to each other which is handy (it would have been more handy if they were labeled) but nothing was modeled. Just some train loops next to each other.

I did some searching online and found that Buffalo looks as though it has no modeling targetted store either. Very disappointing. There is some hope that there is a store in Syracuse but that is very far away for a hobby shop. There is a small store in Vestal too but it is really small although the people there are very nice. But Vestal is really far away. About three hours. So that isn’t really reasonable.

So, I decided that maybe I needed to start an online model train specialty retailer of my own. I did a bunch of searching online and managed to come up with no places that were really good online dealers. Nothing rivaling the online sales of the average computer shop, for example. Nothing that made me confident enough to want to shop online. No place really looked reputable and the ability to search for products was pretty much non-existant. Basically it was like shopping online in the mid-1990’s before Amazon came on the scene and taught everyone how to do it. The best bets are buying through eBay.

I contacted a number of model train distributors and one manufacturer and they all said the same thing: they only sell to brick and mortar stores. Now, granted, this can be a good idea and I will give you an example of why this is true. In the high end audio reproduction industry it has long been held that selling through the Internet or through mail order was not acceptable as it was necessary for brick and mortar stores to exist in order to provide a place for people who had never had a chance to hear high end audio before to go and hear it in person because the average person does not believe that high end audio actually differs significantly from low end audio until they actually hear it. By forcing stores to have listening rooms the high end audio manufacturers have made sure that people who are interested in learning about high end audio have a way to do so. If their products were sold online they might see short term sales gains and lose in the long run as the entire industry collapses as they fail to bring new audio enthusiests into the fold. This is, apparently, the sales model that they hobby industry is attempting to foster. However there is a major flaw in this logic when applied to the hobby industry.

Hobby shops are extremely unprofitable in general and, in order to increase revenues, generally act as specialty toy stores. Toy trains, model rockets, R/C cars, etc. are much higher volume items with lower overhead costs than model trains. Because of this hobby stores quickly find that they are actually toy stores that also sell some models. But lets face it, even real models can be toys if presented and used as such. Because of this many (or perhaps most) model train stores end up presenting the entire model railroading hobby as being “kids playing with trains that just run in a loop around the Christmas tree” instead of being the serious modeling hobby that it is. Sure people can look at the pages on Model Railroader and see photos of amazing layouts that would blow them away and definitely show them what model railroading is all about but that is easier to do online than it is to do in a magazine so that is not a vote for brick and mortar stores. Dominica, for example, until I personally introduced her to the world of model railroading was unaware that it was, in any way, separate from toy trains. In consequence what has happened is the very system of supporting brick and mortars instead of online dealers in order to promote a community and an opportunity to educate and indoctrinate a new generation of modelers has, in fact, resulted in exact opposite effect where the brick and mortars are actually responsible for turning people away from serious modeling (unintentionally, of course) when online stores might have done a much better job. Since so few model train brick and mortars (B&Ms) maintain their own layouts, clubs, gatherings, etc. it is most likely the case that online stores would be more likely to maintain photographs, forums, videos, customer reviews, etc. of the products that they are selling.

Every product group on the market has a different value in being sold online versus in a B&M. Books, for example, work well in both situations hence the incredible success of both Amazon.com and Borders B&M stores. High end audio, as we discussed, relies upon the B&M showcase and the customer interaction with the knowledgable salespeople in order to carefully educate them (if you have never experienced a true high end audio shop I suggest that you take a few hours out of your schedule and visit Soundworks in Pittsford just to the east of Rochester – visit with an open mind and tell them that you are interested in high end audio but have never actually heard a high end system but that SGL said that you should go there to learn about it – they will amaze you.) In another case, computer components have little no value in the B&M market because the prices in physical retail outlets becomes extremely high because of high product turnover from the manufacturer’s side as well as a need for highly detailed knowledge that very few computer B&Ms can provide. This is a marketplace that favours the ability to easily order, at the lowest price, parts specified by part number based completely on detailed specs that are garnered from vendor web sites. Sometimes people use online reviews but you almost never get specific product reviews from friends or stores because products change so often that almost no one ever knows someone who buys exactly the same part that they need to purchase.

The bottom line is that B&Ms are important in some circumstances and online is important in others. But for the model train industry we currently need to convert to an online model and stop trying to artificially support a failed B&M market. Given the amount of potential buyers who must be going online and attempting to get information about railroad modeling we must be losing people in droves who basically discover that the industry has collapsed and that there is no interest in bringing new modelers in at all. It is all very sad. I hope that the model railroad vendors like Atlas and the rest get a clue before it is too late. The one good thing is that it only takes one or two big players switching to an online model before the market will shift as B&Ms rapidly lose business to their online counterparts.

After all this I am not trying to say that a properly done B&M wouldn’t be the best possible situation for model railroaders. In fact, I believe that it is. But it must be dedicated to modeling and not to toys (real modelers are embarrased to be shopping in toy stores – knitters don’t get yarn in toy stores, photographers don’t buy film in toy stores, artists don’t buy paint in toy stores) and it must strive to be a commuity focus for the region where modelers get together, new modelers or potentially new modelers get educated, where products can be viewed first hand, where questions can be asked, etc. Currently I know of no such place and until such a place exists I think that the “Amazon” of online model railroad stores is definitely the best option that we are going to get.

Okay, so today Eric found a stapler in the trash at work. And on this stapler’s side is etched: “Cheese is as cheese does! Go flipscotch!!” On the other side: “Kill me now, the life of a stapler is even more pitiful than that of a food service manager!!!” And finally, on the top: “Bend over and I will staple your butt!!” There is obviously someone at the University of Rochester with way too much time on their hands.

It looks as though wind power is going to coming to Wyoming Country sooner or later. The town of Perry just passed local legislation allowing commercial wind farms to be set up in the town. Given how incredibly windy the entire region is it seems very logical to utilize a large portion of Western New York for wind power generation.

I had lunch with dad at the Omega Grill. My new Atlas Genesee and Wyoming Railroad GP-38 Locomotive #51 arrived yesterday – I got an amazing deal on it new on eBay – and he brought it with him to lunch. It has been several years since I have purchased a new model train locomotive. It may have been as many as twenty years although I don’t think that it has been quite that many. This new model is of slightly higher quality than my last locomotive and the twenty years of additional development that has happened since purchasing my last one really, really shows. This new engine is totally gorgeous. The detail is incredible. This unit is definitely a work of art. I put the train on a piece of track on the little grassy layout that I have on my desk and took some pictures while the sun was actually out. I think that they turned out really, really well. I put four pictures up on the Flickr page so go and check them out. I checked on eBay later today and the same seller is selling the same engine today for $75. So I think that I got a pretty good deal.

I was on eBay tonight and managed to win a Bachman N Scale Burlington Switcher for just sixteen dollars that “matches” my old Bachman Burlington Northern engine. It is a different colour scheme but it is in a colour scheme that overlapped with the new colours that my older engine has. They will look quite appropriate together. I was pretty happy to have it be so inexpensive.

Jeremy stopped by this evening and borrowed a couple of movies. He is going to love Shaun of the Dead, that is some seriously funny stuff although I am not sure whether or not he is familiar enough with the classic Romero films to really get all of the jokes. He also borrowed King Arthur.

So we discovered tonight that Oreo has worms. What a pain. We forgot to give him his heartworm medication that is supposed to take care of that for just two weeks and all ready he has them. We have no idea how bad it is. He needs to go see the vet tomorrow. He needed to go anyway. I am really glad that we have not yet taken him because we would have had to have gone back all ready so it would have been a waste. He is in good spirits and, in fact, he seems to have more energy than usual. It is hard to believe that he actually has worms with the way that he is acting. He has been really active all day and just wanted to play and play and play.

Art stopped by this evening because he needed a cable for his new computer that arrived this afternoon. He has been waiting for several weeks for this computer to come. It is his first Athlon 64 machine. So I think that he is pretty excited to finally have that.

Tomorrow is going to be a long and busy day. I am actually starting the day by going to a breakfast meeting at the Omega Grill at 7:00 am. Yes, that is first thing in the morning. Several hours before I normally even bother to get out of bed. And then just after that Eric is planning on coming over around 8:00 – 8:30 in order to do a little work before he has to go down to Elmira for the day. I have to take Oreo to the vet to see about his worms and to get his toenails trimmed and to get his medicine refilled. At some point I have to go to Walmart too because I need to own a battery powered drill set for this big job that I am doing on Monday. Then at 6:00 pm Eric, Andy, Dad and I are all meeting at Andy’s apartment in Brighton for a meeting. So it is going to be a long day plus I have to do my normal work in there somewhere too. Plus, if possible, I need to get my car’s headlights working. Who knows when I will get everything done.

Dominica got home and we moved into the living room to move forward on the second season of TNG while she made dinner. We ended up staying up until after one in the morning which was not a good idea since I have to be up so early contrary to my usual schedule. I did a little work assembling the first model that I have put together myself in as long as I can remember: a Model Power “Railroad Hotel” model made in West Germany (it is dating itself here) by Pola. I only got a tiny bit of work done on it but boy does the project bring back memories! I must have been twelve or thirteen when I last did any modeling like this.

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