Now we’re getting somewhere


I’ve been writing a series of posts inspired by a question Mike Cougill asked. Mine have been focused on finding room for the large layout in the small home – where we can’t dedicate space as we would traditionally. For me, it’s been a fun exercise to simply work through some options but I didn’t set out to break new ground, just spend some time exploring a thought. This morning I opened my email to find a blog notification from Rene Gourley’s blog announcing a new post. I’m constantly fascinated with his work and courage. His is the work of the true craftsman and I always look forward to the latest developments on his Pembroke layout. Both these lines intersected in that blog notification thanks to a post Rene wrote titled Time to Kill the Knob:

I like this observation:

While we’re saying goodbye to the knob, we can also cast function buttons on the scrap heap of history.  Many of the sound functions should be related instead to the controls of the engine.

We’ve made amazing progress in terms of how we control our models. The quality of sound we can generate from the various DCC sound decoders is something I think exciting. I’ll admit, I do enjoy playing with them, a lot. The problem is that so many of those functions are buried in buttons. It’s easy to play with them when I’m just fooling around but nearly impossible to incorporate them into an operating session since I have to look at the throttle to use them. Looking at the throttle is time not looking at the train or my switchlist and that takes me away from the reason I’m playing trains in the first place. If anything sounds like a “first world problem” it’s that complaint. Truth is, I tune out the sound of the engine when I’m operating it and don’t use the decoder as completely as I could.

Thanks for writing that post, Rene. I really enjoyed reading it. It seems like such a simple leap to discard the interface we use to control the models and yet one of insurmountable height.



  1. So many functions being buried in buttons is exactly the problem. Here’s an example: usually F0 or F1 turns on the headlight. How often do you do that during an operating session? Once (never if you’re modeling 1905 and it’s daytime). On modern layouts you might dim the headlight when meeting another train, but that’s typically buried a level deeper in function buttons. User interface designers would make the most frequently accessed commands the easiest to access.

    1. I don’t know enough about the hardware, and meant to include this question in my comment on your blog post (since there’s overlap, I’ll ask it here):

      It would seem that what we could use is simply different “skins” for the interface on the throttle itself. This is, with respect to those phone or tablet-based throttles like the WiiThrottle that I use.

      I completely agree that in your 1905 world your interface need is very different. An interface more closely tailored to the actual activity would be simpler to read and then more comfortable to use. It’s better design and now I’m rambling…I just enthusiastically agree with your point. Thanks.


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