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Thread: Basic Stupid Newbie Question(s)

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    Default Basic Stupid Newbie Question(s)

    I apologize, but I can't find "The Little Golden Book" of DCC anywhere on line.

    1. If I send a code (say, #8) onto the track, does it just go on once, or does it stay until "somehow" it is switched off?

    2. Does pushing button #8 turn it off when on, or on when it is off (toggle function)? Are all buttons like this?

    3. Is there a cheap DIY decoder for a single function? That is, I've seen a really elegant design that will decode up to 28 functions, but if I only want this switch to work when I push (for example, #8) is there a cheap DIY decoder that will respond to a programmable single function (like #8)?

    4. SBSDCC has some really nice axle wipes so that I can light my caboose. That is, the one on the railroad, not MY caboose. However, the site is completely incomprehensible to me. I've got most of my freight cars with a single nylon stepped rivet that measures 0.125" diameter through the truck and 0.075" diameter through the hole in the bottom the car. Which of his axle wipes would be most appropriate for "cheap" freight cars?

    Thanks, you all have been a great help in my learning thus far...

    Jim

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    1. First, get the "lingo" right. You're not "sending a code" - you are activating what we call a "function." In this case, you are talking about pressing F8 to activate some function associated with F8 on the throttle. Note that you must disassociate function buttons on a throttle from specific actions they cause in the decoder. These actions are programmable. Pressing F8 on one decoder might turn on sound (for a sound-equipped loco); on another decoder, it might turn sound off; on another decoder it might activate ditch lights. Your question is really about how the function buttons on a throttle work.

    2. Function keys on throttles generally are "latching" - that is, when you press F8 on the throttle, it turns the function associated with F8 on, and stays on. The one usual exception to this is the button for F2, which generally operates the horn or whistle on sound-equipped locos. This button is usually set up as non-latching, or momentary contact. F2 stays on only as long as you keep the button pressed. However, some throttles permit you to program the function buttons to be latching or non-latching as you wish.

    3. Digitrax makes a single-function decoder, the TL1 (it also includes Digitrax's proprietary "transponding" circuitry that sends location info). It costs less than $15 at most e-tailers. However, it is limited to using F0, F1, F2, F3 or F4 to turn the function on/off. Most function-only decoders (that's what you are looking for - a "function-only decoder") have 2 or 4 functions and are more flexible in their programming than the TL1, for not much more money. For example, the Digitrax TF4 has 4 function outputs, can use F0-F12, and has special lighting effects that are not available on the TL1, and it costs about $17 street. If literally all you want to do is get a decoder that will turn caboose interior lighting on/off, the TL1 would be fine. But if you want to add marker lights or signal lights or some such, you might be happier with a more robust decoder.

    4. I don't use axle wipers, so I don't know the answer to this question. But Bryan Vianco, who owns SBS, is exceptionally helpful and a master of DCC installations. E-mail him and ask. But be specific - e.g., "I have an Atlas NE Caboose, model #XXXXXX, that I would like to add lighting to. What do I need to accomplish this?" You might need to change out the wheels in your trucks in addition to getting axle wipers to accomplish what you want.

    John C.

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    You got it from an acknowledged and respected expert, @jweir43!

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    If you want to light a caboose, I would suggest "NGINEERING". Tim puts together a nice kit for doing just that. Also, try detailsnscale.com. Dave puts together a real nice "FRED"......
    Bill

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    Quote Originally Posted by jdcolombo View Post
    1. First, get the "lingo" right. You're not "sending a code" - you are activating what we call a "function." In this case, you are talking about pressing F8 to activate some function associated with F8 on the throttle. Note that you must disassociate function buttons on a throttle from specific actions they cause in the decoder. These actions are programmable. Pressing F8 on one decoder might turn on sound (for a sound-equipped loco); on another decoder, it might turn sound off; on another decoder it might activate ditch lights. Your question is really about how the function buttons on a throttle work.

    2. Function keys on throttles generally are "latching" - that is, when you press F8 on the throttle, it turns the function associated with F8 on, and stays on. The one usual exception to this is the button for F2, which generally operates the horn or whistle on sound-equipped locos. This button is usually set up as non-latching, or momentary contact. F2 stays on only as long as you keep the button pressed. However, some throttles permit you to program the function buttons to be latching or non-latching as you wish.

    3. Digitrax makes a single-function decoder, the TL1 (it also includes Digitrax's proprietary "transponding" circuitry that sends location info). It costs less than $15 at most e-tailers. However, it is limited to using F0, F1, F2, F3 or F4 to turn the function on/off. Most function-only decoders (that's what you are looking for - a "function-only decoder") have 2 or 4 functions and are more flexible in their programming than the TL1, for not much more money. For example, the Digitrax TF4 has 4 function outputs, can use F0-F12, and has special lighting effects that are not available on the TL1, and it costs about $17 street. If literally all you want to do is get a decoder that will turn caboose interior lighting on/off, the TL1 would be fine. But if you want to add marker lights or signal lights or some such, you might be happier with a more robust decoder.

    4. I don't use axle wipers, so I don't know the answer to this question. But Bryan Vianco, who owns SBS, is exceptionally helpful and a master of DCC installations. E-mail him and ask. But be specific - e.g., "I have an Atlas NE Caboose, model #XXXXXX, that I would like to add lighting to. What do I need to accomplish this?" You might need to change out the wheels in your trucks in addition to getting axle wipers to accomplish what you want.

    John C.
    John ... Thanks for the detailed response. I appreciate any help I can get. I teach (among other things freshman electronic engineering) and can empathize with students who come into the program not knowing which end of the soldering iron gets hot.

    1. Not knowing the vocabulary or lingo is a prime deterrent to learning. And since part of my job is teaching digital signalling, I naturally know that what is happening when I push a key is sending a train of pulses down the line to a waiting decoder. I've got a Model Rectifier power pack that doesn't have, for example, F8. It simply has a keypad 0-9 with a separate button that lets me pick one of four locomotives to send a function to. Press, for example, "Loco" and "1" I know I'm sending commands to my F7 Warbonnet. And to turn the headlight on after that it is a simple "0" for on and again "0" for off. To dim the headlight we have "1" to dim, but pressing "1" again returns the headlight to bright. Both of these are what I call "toggle" function as I can go back and forth toggling on-off and bright-dim all day long. What I do NOT know is whether or not all buttons/decoders operate the same way. If, for example, I program button 6 to make a switch go from straight to left turn, does pushing it again make it go from left turn to straight again?

    2. I don't have a throttle function key. I've got a rotating knob (probably a potentiometer) that lets me set speeds from zero to some arbitrary maximum. But only for the loco that I've selected in step 1 above. When I select loco #2, then loco #1 remains at the speed I set and I can then control the speed of loco #2.

    3. I freely admit that I've been into model railroading since 1946 when my dad came home from the unpleasantries in the South Pacific and bought me an American Flyer S-gauge for my 3rd birthday. I still run that sucker around the track every now and again in his honor. HOWEVER, I'm also deep into homebrewing electronics (in addition to teaching it) and the fascination of being able to roll my own decoder is very strong. I have a complete pc board setup and I can go from schematic to layout to a finished board in about an hour. I was kind of hoping that I could cut the learning curve by seeing what somebody who understands the DCC format has done and then build my experiments on that. Other than learning from somebody who understands the format, the process of learning it myself from scratch is rather tedious and full of pitfalls that I'm sure others have figured out how to avoid.

    4. I haven't met Bryan, but his website is very elegant and obviously constructed by a master of DCC and model railroading in general. I have written him from the link on his website, but he is apparently going through a massive move that the website says will last until mid-February. Last thing I want to do is ask newby questions of somebody going through the process of a giant moving event. I'll hold tight until he is spun up in his new location. In addition, my rolling stock is a hodge-podge of cars picked up hither and yon over the last 15 years and the only thing I really know the manufacturer and model # are the two locos on the layout. I'll try and attach an image but if it doesn't work, I'm sorry. I don't use this board often enough to be truly proficient at it.

    Again, thank you for your help. You've been quite generous with your time and I truly appreciate it.



    JimIMG_0805s.jpg

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    I'm no DCC expert, but I see evidence that signals are sent over and over from the throttle to the current loco. For example you have dirty track, the engine stalls because it (and the decoder) lacks power. When you jiggle it back into contact with the rails, you don't have to go to your throttle and change the speed or turn on the lights again; the loco goes right back to the state it was in. Its possible that the decoder has some kind of memory that persists after power off but I see evidence against that, so I'm betting the signals are sent over and over. Not sure if the headlight toggle is resent constantly or not, but my guess would be yes.

    As far as pushing a button goes, a key push will be ignored by your caboose (or whatever you are trying to run) decoder unless the decoder's loco address number is the same as the one entered on your throttle. Note it is possible to give the caboose and the loco decoders the same loco address, which might solve the issue for you.

    No experience with powering trucks but take a look at Streamline Backshops. http://sbs4dcc.com/znhopowertrucks.html

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    Here is a .pdf file for you that i a little old but still has good information:
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    Quote Originally Posted by NtheBasement View Post
    but I see evidence that signals are sent over and over from the throttle to the current loco
    It's just combinations of one and zeroes in a packet of data.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schmidt View Post
    It's just combinations of one and zeroes in a packet of data.
    To be clear, I suspect the packets are sent over and over in a constant stream. Meaning even if you don't touch the throttle, it keeps rebroadcasting the last settings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NtheBasement View Post
    To be clear, I suspect the packets are sent over and over in a constant stream. Meaning even if you don't touch the throttle, it keeps rebroadcasting the last settings.
    Yes, I **suspect** that too, but suspecting and knowing for sure are two different things. The question is whether or not the decoder latches that packet into memory or whether it just keeps getting refreshed every few milliseconds.

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    If I am correct, DCC signals are sent as repeating packets of 0’s and 1’s that are represented by shorter or longer pulses that are bi-polar, that is they switch between positive and negative voltage. Each command is sent as a packet with an identifier that tells the decoder with that address to activate that instruction, so only that decoder responds. However, each packet is repeated over and over again so that if there is a bit of dirty track, the packet will still be received. I believe that between 150-200 packets are sent each second by the command station, although this may be out-of-date information. Thus, pressing function key 0, which most decoders use to turn on the headlight, would send a packet with that instruction over and over again. This constant barrage of packets is important, as it provides not only the information to tell the decoder what to do, but also the track power to run the motor. No packets, no power to the locomotives.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jweir43 View Post
    John ... Thanks for the detailed response. I appreciate any help I can get. I teach (among other things freshman electronic engineering) and can empathize with students who come into the program not knowing which end of the soldering iron gets hot.

    1. Not knowing the vocabulary or lingo is a prime deterrent to learning. And since part of my job is teaching digital signalling, I naturally know that what is happening when I push a key is sending a train of pulses down the line to a waiting decoder. I've got a Model Rectifier power pack that doesn't have, for example, F8. It simply has a keypad 0-9 with a separate button that lets me pick one of four locomotives to send a function to. Press, for example, "Loco" and "1" I know I'm sending commands to my F7 Warbonnet. And to turn the headlight on after that it is a simple "0" for on and again "0" for off. To dim the headlight we have "1" to dim, but pressing "1" again returns the headlight to bright. Both of these are what I call "toggle" function as I can go back and forth toggling on-off and bright-dim all day long. What I do NOT know is whether or not all buttons/decoders operate the same way. If, for example, I program button 6 to make a switch go from straight to left turn, does pushing it again make it go from left turn to straight again?

    2. I don't have a throttle function key. I've got a rotating knob (probably a potentiometer) that lets me set speeds from zero to some arbitrary maximum. But only for the loco that I've selected in step 1 above. When I select loco #2, then loco #1 remains at the speed I set and I can then control the speed of loco #2.

    3. I freely admit that I've been into model railroading since 1946 when my dad came home from the unpleasantries in the South Pacific and bought me an American Flyer S-gauge for my 3rd birthday. I still run that sucker around the track every now and again in his honor. HOWEVER, I'm also deep into homebrewing electronics (in addition to teaching it) and the fascination of being able to roll my own decoder is very strong. I have a complete pc board setup and I can go from schematic to layout to a finished board in about an hour. I was kind of hoping that I could cut the learning curve by seeing what somebody who understands the DCC format has done and then build my experiments on that. Other than learning from somebody who understands the format, the process of learning it myself from scratch is rather tedious and full of pitfalls that I'm sure others have figured out how to avoid.

    4. I haven't met Bryan, but his website is very elegant and obviously constructed by a master of DCC and model railroading in general. I have written him from the link on his website, but he is apparently going through a massive move that the website says will last until mid-February. Last thing I want to do is ask newby questions of somebody going through the process of a giant moving event. I'll hold tight until he is spun up in his new location. In addition, my rolling stock is a hodge-podge of cars picked up hither and yon over the last 15 years and the only thing I really know the manufacturer and model # are the two locos on the layout. I'll try and attach an image but if it doesn't work, I'm sorry. I don't use this board often enough to be truly proficient at it.

    Again, thank you for your help. You've been quite generous with your time and I truly appreciate it.



    JimIMG_0805s.jpg
    Hi Jim.

    So think of the power pack as a throttle that is connected to a command station, which in turn is connected to the track (that's actually what it is - an integrated throttle/command station). When you press buttons on the throttle (your MRC power pack) or turn the knob, the command station sends a "packet" of binary digital info (1's and 0's) to the decoder (and as others have pointed out, these packets are sent continuously until the command station receives a different command from the throttle, and then it sends out a new packet). Each locomotive in a DCC system has a unique digital address. Each packet sent by the command station starts with the locomotive address data, so that a particular locomotive's decoder knows whether to pay attention to that packet or not. So all DCC control systems start by requiring you to select the locomotive you want to control first. Then pressing buttons on the throttle tells the command station to send digital packets to that locomotive. You select Loco 1 on the MRC; now when you turn the knob or press buttons, the MRC sends out a digital packet that in essence is like this "Hey, Loco 1 - this packet is for you. Pay attention. OK, now adjust your speed to speed step 4/28." Or "Turn your headlight on." Etc. Once a decoder receives a packet of information that tells it to do something, it does it, and then waits for new instructions. So that's why Loco 1 keeps right on truckin' at the same speed when you select Loco 2 and turn the knob (which now is sending speed information packets to Loco 2). The decoder is basically dumb as a rock. It will do whatever you tell it, and KEEP doing it until you tell it to do something else.

    That's what your MRC system is doing. You select one of four locomotives, and then press a button (numbered 0-9) or turn a knob, which in turn tells the command station (your "power pack" is really an integrated throttle and command station) to send a packet of digital information to the decoder in that particular locomotive which in turn tells the decoder to do something. In general, these buttons or knobs are "latching." That is, when you press the button once, a certain packet of information is sent continuously to the locomotive until you press the button again, and then a different packet is sent. So, for example, the button "0" on your MRC controls lighting. When you press it once, it tells the command station to send a packet of information to a specific locomotive that tells the decoder to turn the headlight on. That packet is repeated until you press "0" again, which then tells the decoder to send a NEW packet telling the decoder to turn the headlight off. This is what I mean by "latching" - in most cases, pressing the button once creates a particular command that is re-sent to the decoder continuously until the button is pressed again, which causes a different command to be sent to the decoder. But all of this is programmable - remember, decoders are just tiny computers. So each different DCC system can have different ways of doing things. Nevertheless, there is a sort of "default" programming that almost all decoder manufacturers and DCC systems have adopted. This default programming includes things like "press 0 turns the light on; press it again, and it turns the light off." So you might think of it like this: you press 0; the command station sends digital information to the decoder that in effect says "Hey - Loco 1 - turn headlight on." Then the decoder will keep checking all the packets it receives, and all these packets will still say "turn headlight on." So the decoder will keep the headlight on - UNTIL you press 0 again, and then the command station will send a new packet saying "turn headlight off." The decoder will dutifully do that, until it receives a packet that says "turn headlight on" again (e.g., you press 0 a third time).

    You asked about turnouts. Again, this is dependent on how a particular system is programmed, but the usual way for this to work is "press button once, and turnout position changes; press it again, and the turnout position changes back." Or in other words, the button is "latching" - press it once, and the particular state is changed "forever" to a new state until the button is pressed again, in which case the state is changed back. Or as you put it, most of these buttons are "toggles," like a light switch. Press it once, and something happens; press it again, and the something that happened is reversed. But remember, since all this is programmable, you have to consult your particular DCC system manual to make sure this is the way it works ON YOUR SYSTEM. Normally, however, you can depend on the fact that the "default" programming is "press once and X happens; press again, and X is reversed to original state."

    I think there are home-brew schematics for DCC function decoders on the web. Try searching for "DIY DCC Function Decoder" and see what happens (if you haven't already).

    Bryan IS in the midst of a move from Indiana to Alabama. So he might be out of touch for a while. But don't hesitate to e-mail him. He'll get back to you when he can. Most rolling stock has the manufacturer embossed on the bottom of the chassis or on the trucks - turn the model over and look at the bottom, and you might find lettering that says "Atlas" or "Model Power" or "Micro Trains." If not, send Bryan a photo or two, showing the model and showing the trucks and wheels. He'll figure it out - he's been in this business a long time and almost certainly will be able to identify what you send photos of.

    DO NOT GIVE UP! DCC is complex, but no more complex than driving a modern car with all kinds of electronic feedback systems; or using a computer or cell phone. Keep asking questions - those of us in the hobby are tickled to help folks get on their feet. Don't EVER think a question is "dumb," because all of us had those same "dumb" questions when we started. Just keep plugging away, and soon it will make sense.

    John C.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NtheBasement View Post
    To be clear, I suspect the packets are sent over and over in a constant stream. Meaning even if you don't touch the throttle, it keeps rebroadcasting the last settings.
    On the track, that's true. Quoting the NMRA DCC Communications Standard S-9.2 here:
    Quote Originally Posted by https://www.nmra.org/sites/default/files/s-92-2004-07.pdf
    Packets sent to Digital Decoders should be repeated as frequently as possible
    The very first DCC systems would constantly loop through all the active locos and send the data for speed, direction and functions to every loco one after the other. (That's what Digitrax slots were all about originally.) More advanced systems will prioritize, sending emergency stop packets first, then those for locos whose speed had just changed, then function changes... making locos react more swiftly when you have a lot of them on the track.

    On the throttle side (like Loconet) this depends a lot on your throttles. I know for a fact (watching Loconet activity with a monitor tool) that many loconet throttles only send data when something changes, but obviously the command station buffers the info so it can send it to the track repeatedly.

    edit re the DIY aspect: Check out https://www.opendcc.de/index_e.html and particularly https://www.opendcc.de/elektronik/op...decoder_e.html for a lot of DIY DCC projects - probably the English translations are somewhat rough, but maybe you can adapt what's there.

    Hope this helps,
    Heiko

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    Hi Jim.

    First post but long time member, far too long. I was prompted to reply by your post#5 paragraph 3.

    Firstly, from the quoted dates we are pretty much the same vintage ('43 here). Second, I am also enjoying tinkering with electronics and are making my own PC boards - lately all SMD. We can have a third in our interest in model RRing, but I think being here makes that a given.

    A quick history recap. Had a layout in the early '70s but disassembled it when we moved. I packed away all trains and turnouts. After one failed attempt to start a new layout, life kept interfering, I only managed to start again a few years back. I built a small layout but had lots of problems with my ancient turnouts. After some web surfing decided to build my own using Fast Tracks templates.

    I also decided to use servos to switch the turnouts. It appeared that using an Arduino would be a good option to control them. However, I got addicted to it - the Arduino I mean. Looking for a way to also use the Arduino for DCC, I came across the work done by Gregg Berman (Google "Introduction to DCC++" - that is a long read but good education into all the workings of DCC).

    After getting my PC board manufacturing sorted I got interested in a project when a member asked about using the ATtiny85 as a minimalist DCC++ station. It led to me building a self-contained DCC++ controller (you can read about it here).

    While visiting a local hobby store last year, I could not resist buying a beautiful DCC ready streamer and a decoder - blowing 6 months hobby budget. The accompanying literature suggested minimum radii of 11". That prompted me to rebuild my layout (which I think was far too small and asking for problems) enlarging it by 33% to go from 9.75" to minimum 12" radii - that also helped reduce the grades. Having done that and completing the phase1 tracks (a loop around the full layout, a small classification yard at the front and a reverse loop, including 15 turnouts) I now need to control the turnouts.

    That brings us to your post. I am in the process of designing and building a 4 servo DCC decoder. It is loosely based on "Geoff Bunza's Low Cost 17 Channel DCC Decoder (see here)". I initially planned on using an ATtiny84 but am having problems running out of SRAM. I switched to a ATmega328P and all seems to work fine. Since my DCC++ controller currently only allows for mobile control (memory limits what can be done), I next need to re-program it for accessory control to test the DCC side of the decoder (still on breadboard). I have already tested decoding DCC with separate small modules, so know that part should work.

    I will let you know how it all works when tested. In the meantime reading the quoted sites will give you a good insight how both DCC and decoders function while, most likely, appealing to your DIY side.

    Sorry for the long post.

    Willem
    Last edited by Willem; 19th Jan 2019 at 10:24 AM.

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