Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sausage gravy and the slow demise of craftsmanship

Having grown up in the South one of my favorite breakfasts is sausage gravy over biscuits. After I graduated and left home I enjoyed frequenting a little mom & pop restaurant when I was home on vacation, always ordering the gravy and biscuits. It wasn’t the best I’d ever had, but I liked the idea of getting home cooked food over the mass produced stuff served in chain restaurants. You can imagine my dismay when I peeked into the kitchen during one visit and saw the crew opening a can of pre-made sausage gravy. I never went back to the restaurant again. They were cheating, taking short cuts to satisfy their customers. (On hindsight that probably explains why I could eat breakfast there for around five dollars.)

Two weeks ago there was a brief but lively debate on the WingNut Wings Fans Facebook group when one of its members posted a link to LF Models’ new prefabricated wooden propellers. Several of us expressed our view that using these prop constituted something akin to cheating. One member said, "This is modeling equivalent of turning in homework that you didn't do yourself." He's right.

LF Model's propeller for the Albatros D.I-V, Fokker Dr.I and D.VII, Pfalz D.III, and Roland D.V and C.II.
To be sure, the propellers looks amazing, and why shouldn’t they? They appear to have been manufactured exactly like the real thing, with laminated layers of multi-color woods, shaped, and polished, complete with an aluminum hub. The “modeler” will spend more time removing the prop from the packaging than he will attaching it to the model.

As you might imagine more than a few modelers in the Facebook group will buy LF’s props, and predictably they defended their right to do so. I don’t begrudge them the desire to create a better representation of an Albatros D.III or Fokker D.VII, but I do believe that using these props removes a good bit of craftsmanship that forms the basis of scale modeling. Using these props is cheating. Period.

“Cheating?” said another member. "If this is cheating then so is using Eduard photoetch, Yahu instrument panels, and resin replacement parts.” And he’s absolutely right. When you use those products, you introduce elements into the model that aren’t the product of your mind and hands, and the your model then only partially reflects your skill as a modeler. You’re another one, two, three steps further removed from being an "artist" (not that modeling is art). Yes, there is a degree of skill required to properly clean up, assemble, attach, and paint photoetch or resin, but not nearly as much as creating those components yourself using plastic, metal, and other media. One of the modelers that inspired me early on, Bob Steinbrunn, used very little, if any, aftermarket and produced amazing representations of aircraft in scale. He, my friends, is a true craftsman.

Some of you reading this will take my argument to an extreme, setting up a straw man by suggesting that modelers should create their own paint and glue. Or scratchbuilding models completely, eschewing kits entirely. That might be true, but I’d make a distinction between products used to construct and paint a model and products used to replace or add components of a model.

Here’s the deal. If you use wooden props, photoetch, resin cockpits, and so on, it's okay. There are valid reasons for doing so, but admit that you’re cheating. It’s okay to take shortcuts to create the models that you want to display in your display case, but realize that a bit of your craftsmanship is lost in the process.

I’m a cheater myself. Look at the photo below, which shows a small selection of the canopy masks, resin, and gun barrels in my stash. I could mask canopies on my own (as I am for an ESCI 1/72 AV-8A Harrier), but Eduard’s and Peewit’s products make the painting process faster and the results more predictable, and that is important to me. And maybe those wooden props are important to you.


We're cheaters.

You can learn more about the LF Models wooden propellers here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

5 reasons why model kits are inaccurate

The newest release from Trumpihawk Boss just arrived at your doorstep and you’re excited to build it. But wait! The rivet counters on your favorite forum are lambasting the kit for its many inaccuracies. The nose is misshaped, the intakes are too high, the canopy shape resembles that of the prototype not the production variant, there are panel lines that shouldn’t be there. “It’s a caricature of the actual aircraft,” says one observer with an annoying affinity for hyperbole.


Whether you’ve learned to love rivet counters or not, you stare at the model wondering how the designers could make such obvious mistakes.

We'll I can tell you. In fact I'll give you five reasons.

Inaccurate plans


The designers may have used inaccurate plans. The manufacturers don’t always have access to the plans and schematics from the original manufacturer, so they use what they can find. For many of the aircraft, armor, ships, and cars we build there are two, three, or more sets of plans floating around out there in books, magazines, or online. The designers choose one, believing (or hoping) they’re correct. Clearly, when they’re not, mistakes in the plans are reflected in the model.

Inaccurate prototypes


The designers may have studied an inaccurate prototype. This is what happened with Eduard’s initial release of their 1/48 Bf-109G. If you followed the endless chatter online last year you may recall the model featured a bump on the wing root, which the designer dutifully included based on their analysis of a Bf-109G in a museum. It turned out that the bump was a a post-war modification. How were the designers to know that? In Eduard’s case, they didn’t find out until the kit was in our hands and modelers more knowledgable about the 109 pointed out the error. (To their credit, Eduard corrected this, and other mistakes, by re-tooling the molds and releasing a new kit.)

Lack of subject matter expertise


From the conversations I’ve had with insiders familiar with the model design process, the designers employed by the manufacturers are often design generalists. They’re not necessarily aviation or military enthusiasts like you and me. They might be designing parts for a refrigerator on Monday and designing the canopy of the upcoming Su-35 on Tuesday. They’re not familiar with the subtleties of your favorite subjects. It’s not surprising that they don’t “see” that gentle shape of the rear fuselage of the F-4 Phantom or notice the different angle of a Sherman glacis plate between the early and late variants.

When a subject matter expert is involved in a project (and we’ve recently seen a number of kits that are reviewed by modelers during the design process), there can be communication challenges. With many kits being designed in Asia or Europe there’s no guarantee the designers will be fluent in English, so when the expert sees an error in an early design image, communicating the nuance of the recommended change can be a challenge. For example, I have a basic understanding of Spanish; I know common words and phrases (and can certainly look up words I don’t know), but I’d be hard-pressed to assemble a clear, coherent explanation in Spanish of why the nose of the Trumpeter 1/72 Su-34 is wrong. And a Spanish designer might have a hard timely clearly understanding precise instructions I give him.

And I should point out that even when a third-party expert is consulted it doesn’t mean that the manufacturer will follow their guidance or that the expert is provided anything other than the CAD images.

No quality assurance


I don’t have any evidence to back up this theory, so I’d be eager to hear from anyone who can set me straight, but I have a feeling there’s no quality assurance check of the basic design of a new model prior to its going to production. The manufacturers hire designers, whether full-time or freelance, and give them the responsibility to design a model. But who checks their designs? I suspect it’s a product manager, but who’s to say that he's familiar enough with the subject to determine whether the designs are correct or not? He could look over the CAD drawings and declare, “Well, it looks like the photos of the Fruitbat Mk IIc that I’ve seen,” but would he notice that the exhausts are incorrect or the wheel hubs feature five bolt heads rather than six? Probably not. So the manufacturers release kits based on the best efforts of their designers.

The Dunning-Kruger effect


Finally, this leads me to the most likely reason your favorite model is inaccurate, the Dunning-Kruger effect. This concept suggests that we mistakenly consider ourselves to be more intelligent or to possess higher skills than we actually have. The guy who designed that inaccurate kit you bought thought it was accurate. He did the very best he could given his experience, skill, and resources available. But it turns out he wasn’t quite good enough to get everything right.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains why you feel slighted when your model doesn't win at a contest...even though the wings weren’t aligned or you missed a seam on the stabilizer. Or why a chef at a restaurant featured on Kitchen Nightmares believes he's serving amazing food even though the restaurant is on the verge of bankruptcy because no one eats there. If Tamiya is producing the most accurate kits in the hobby, it's due in large part to their hiring the best talent.

You can read more about the Dunning-Kruger effect on Wikipedia.

In Summary...


Being aware of these factors should give you a clear understanding of just how difficult it is to produce a perfectly accurate kit.

1. Ideally the designers work from the manufacturer’s plans, and

2. They have to have access to an accurately restored prototype, and

3. They consult with subject matter experts with whom they can clearly communicate, and

4. There’s someone in the company who’s familiar with the aircraft or vehicle prototype to double-check the designers’ work, and

5. The designers are the very best in the industry and — ideally — aviation, military, naval, or automotive enthusiasts themselves.

That’s a tall order by any measure!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Your stash when you die

Like most of you, I have a lot of models in my stash. I have great affection for them, and I have a good idea of the paint scheme and markings I intend to apply to each one. In my mind’s eye I can envision how they’ll look when complete.

Then reality sets in when I do the math and realize that I have more kits than I can build in my lifetime, at least at my current rate. Some evenings I’ll sit and look over the models and come to the harsh realization that that Hasegawa 1/72 EF-111A or the Tamiya 1/48 F-16C may be sitting in that exact same spot when I die. It’s downright depressing. All that inspiration and ambition is pointless when I face reality.


To be sure, there are ways we can increase our output. A couple of years ago I suggested painting your cockpits black, and I offered five ideas to speed up your builds. But even doubling or tripling my rate of completion may not be enough, especially considering all the great kits that will inevitably be released over the next 20 years. Heck, just today I received the new AMK 1/72 Kfir, another kit I may never build!

I’ve been thinking about this dilemma a lot recently. The ripe old age of 50 is clearly on my radar. Reading on Hyperscale of the passing of several modelers. A friend who's been selling a collection of die cast models for the widow of a friend who died. And my fiancee, who casually asked me what she should do with my models if something were to happen to me.

I can hear many of you already. “I’ll be dead. I don’t care what happens to my models.” We can laugh at a flip, apathetic response like that, but I’ve come to believe that leaving behind an enormous collection of models to your heirs to deal with is a burden. It’s inconsiderate and unloving.

The prospect that one of your friends might leave you 500 models, for example, has an element of opportunity to it — once you get past the grief. But then the reality of the situation would set in. How are you going to get the models from their home to yours? Where will you store them? How will you sell them? Are they complete? Are they even desirable?

Clearly, there’s potential for a collection of models to have significant value…if they’re sold individually. But if you’ve every sold models on eBay, on Facebook, or via the forums you know what I know, that being a seller is a total pain in the ass. Determining a viable price for each model, the logistics of posting them, responding to email, acquiring shipping material, packing the models, printing postage, mailing the items, tracking the packages, responding to follow-up communication…it can be a full-time job. Yes, the money is nice, but I’d rather be building a models than packing them en masse.

“My wife can call one of the second-hand model dealers and sell them in bulk,” you say. True, but she's likely to get pennies on the dollar. Those twenty WingNut Wings models in your stash might earn your wife $100 amid all the other models she’d offer to the buyer. That doesn’t seem fair to her.

So what’s a guy to do? Here are a few suggestions.

With each passing year after 50 take a hard assessment of the kits in your stash, and those that don’t excite you should go to a sale pile. Sell them online or buy a table at a local contest and sell them there. The goal is to have a reasonable number of unbuilt models in your stash, knowing that nearly anything can be found on the secondary market if you “accidentally” sell a model that you decide you want to build 10 years from now.

Give some of your kits away. There are organizations that will gladly send models to our troops overseas. If you’re a member of a club, give some to new members or to a junior member. Or to your friends; having been the recipient of many kind offers over the years, I can assure you it’s greatly appreciated.

Slow your purchases. For example, the next time you're at a contest and see an enticing kit at a bargain price, be strong. Ask yourself if you really need another Hasegawa P-51D when you already have 10 of them at home, even if the price tag says only $5.

Make arrangements for the disposal of your unbuilt kits upon your passing. If you’re going to bequeath them to a modeler-friend, first, make sure he's up for the task, and if he is, be sure to designate him in your will and communicate that to your family, and let them know whether you're giving the models to your friend outright or whether you expect him to sell them on behalf of your family. If you’re content for your family to sell them in bulk to one of the second-hand retailers, make sure they have contact information for two or three of those retailers. (And it wouldn’t hurt to call out any models that are of particularly high value.)

Look, the goal isn’t to have zero kits in your stash when you die, just not to have hundreds that someone has to deal with amid all the other estate issues they’ll be managing at the time. As we get older, protecting our friends and loved ones is incredibly important, and it extends to the assets of our hobby as much as anything else.

Live long and prosper. And downsize.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Scale Model Soup. Five years ago on this date I started this blog, and it’s been a fun ride sharing my rantings and ravings with you.


I haven’t read my first post since that day in 2012, so it’s been enlightening to go back to it and assess my progress. I’ve done my best to promote the hobby. I try to stay positive. That said, I have been critical of trends that I believe are bad for the hobby, particularly those that diminish the craftsmanship that each of us brings to scale modeling, but I restrain myself more often than not.

I’ve shared my experiences, which I hope have offered some reassurance that you’re not the only one who suffers through the mundane or curses the tedious.

I’ve been a strong advocate for your entering contests, because I believe that's the best way you can support and promote the hobby. Along the way I dispelled the biggest myth that contest naysayers spew on the forums, that contests are full of trophy hounds. They're not.

I fell a bit short in my ambitions. The first two years I posted my selections for model of the year, best WIP of the year, best build of the year, biggest disappointment of the year, etc. In subsequent years I realized that it was simply too difficult to make those choices. There are too many great models released every year, too many outstanding models posted to forums and blogs, to choose just one. And as a modeler who builds only aircraft and armor, I realized it’s unfair to the ship and automotive communities to ignore kits and modeling in those genres.

With five years and 258 articles behind me the biggest “takeaway” for me on a personal level is the process of discovery and elucidation that comes with writing. On several occasions I’ve begun writing an article to make a strong statement in support of an idea only to find that I was unable to offer reasonable evidence or arguments in favor of that claim. When I approach the issues and controversies of the hobby with an open mind, as in most of life, I find that nothing is black and white as some people would lead us to believe.

Whatever it is I’m doing here, I sincerely appreciate the comments you leave on Scale Model Soup directly or on my Facebook page, whether you agree with my ranting and raving or challenge me. I know your time is precious, and I’m honored that you choose to read Scale Model Soup from among the hundreds of blogs, web sites, and Facebook groups at your fingertips. Likewise, I’ve enjoyed meeting many of you at local contests and the IPMS Nats.

Tomorrow I begin another five years. I have no shortage of article ideas, so look for more Soup, including some new article themes I’ve been mulling over.

Thank you!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

7 ways to improve your club's newsletter

Writing has long been a big part of my professional life, as a technical writer and currently as a software product manager. While in high school I served as the newsletter editor for IPMS Ocala, composing The Leading Edge on a manual typewriter on the family dining room table. In the mid-Nineties I wrote The Turret Bustle for a very informal club of Ohio armor modelers. It was just a matter of time until I returned to the hobby publishing "industry" to create Scale Model Soup, which will be five years old later this week.


I’m fortunate that a friend forwards at least a dozen IPMS club newsletters to me every month, which I'm always excited to read. Some of them are really good, so I’d like to share a few of the things that can make a newsletter stand above others.

Put your club meeting date and location on the front page

The primary goal of your newsletter is to drive attendance of your club meetings. Make it easy for new readers to find out when and where you meet by putting that information on the front page.

Include contact information for club officers

New and existing members might have questions about the club. Make sure each officer’s email address is readily available. Better yet, follow the example set by IPMS Butch O’Hare (Chicago) and include a photo of each person, which is particularly helpful when new members attend their first meeting.

Promote upcoming contests

I’ve talked ad naseum about why you should enter contests, so always include a list of upcoming local contests. I'd also suggest you indicate the city and state so readers can quickly assess the distance from their homes.

Use large photographs

Many of the newsletters I see include small photographs of models. If your distribution is primarily online and printing and postage costs are not driving factors in the length of your newsletter, use large photos so readers can better view the models, reviews, and articles you share with them.

Ask someone to proofread your text

Misspellings and bad grammar in your newsletter are like glue marks and seams on your models. Take the time to proofread what you and your contributors write. Don’t let readers suspect that a 10 year-old wrote your newsletter.

Don’t fiddle with your fonts

Keep it simple. Use no more than two or three fonts — such as Helvetica for article titles and Times New Roman for the text. Avoid using ALL CAPS. While you’re at it, there’s no reason to use red, blue, or green text.

Consider unrelated content

IPMS Livonia (Michigan) includes enticing recipes in their monthly newsletter, BullSheet. Steak and BBQ are just two examples of topics that are likely to be of interest to your readers, so explore opportunities to entertain your club's members in new ways.


P.S. Observant readers will notice that The Turret Bustle pictured above didn't feature our club meeting information on the front page. If I recall correctly, we didn't meet on a regular basis...or I was simply young and naive.

Monday, July 3, 2017

When your favorite web site goes down

“Is Britmodeller down for everybody?”
“Anyone else having problems accessing Trumpeter’s web site?”
“Is the Aviation Maniac site down?”

Most of you have seen posts like these on the forums, or maybe you’ve asked the question yourself. Either way, it can be alarming when a favorite web site is unavailable, and it’s easy to fear the worse...that the site is gone for good. Witness the demise of Fencecheck earlier this year. We've come to rely on the internet for a great deal of the information that feeds into our modeling, so I understand the panic that sets in when something goes wrong.


Fear not, my friends. I’ve worked in the software industry for 20 years, so the harsh reality of technology is that sometimes things break and web sites are inaccessible. Similarly, web sites are intentionally brought offline for upgrades and enhancements.

So what do you do when you can’t seem to access a favorite web site?

First, don’t panic. Click your browser’s Refresh button and see what happens. If the site doesn’t load, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is going to be okay. I know it’s difficult, but it’s times like these that test a man’s character. Remind yourself that you can handle whatever happens.

The best and easiest thing you can do is simply wait a few hours, or even 24 hours, and more often than not you’ll find that the web site is magically back online.

But, if you’re impatient and want to troubleshoot right away, here are some suggestions.

Clear your web browser’s cache. Browsers do weird things depending on how they “save” web data on your computer, so clearing the cache will sometimes help.

Try a different browser. Most laptops have two or more browsers installed, so if you can’t access a web site on Chrome, try Internet Explorer instead. Or Firefox. Or for you old timers, AOL.

Try accessing the site on a mobile device. It’s not unusual for there to be two different “paths" to the data that’s used to render a web site, so occasionally a mobile device will offer an alternative.

Check the web site’s Facebook page, assuming one is available. Responsible webmasters will let their customers know when an outage is planned or an issue has been encountered.

More often than not, web site issues sort themselves out over time. Webmasters check their web sites throughout the day or their Internet Service Provider (ISP) sends them alerts when a problem is detected. Usually doing nothing is the best course of action. Go waste time on another web site or, better yet, sit down at the workbench and build a model rather than read about them. If you're anything like me, you spend too much time on the internet anyway.

Editor's note: A kind reader reminded me of another resource, Down For Everyone Or Just Me. Simply type in the URL of the web site, and they'll let you know if it's truly offline.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My love hate relationship with resin kits


Every evening I check the Rumourmonger area on Britmodeller, which is one of the best sources of news about upcoming kits. My heart skips a beat when I see a new thread about an enticing subject, but sometimes a wave of disappointment quickly follows when I see that the kit will be in resin rather than injected molded form. 

This happened to me last year when a new 1/72 YC-125 Raider was announced. It’s an usual aircraft to be sure. I’d never heard of the plane, much less seen one, until I visited the National Museum of the US Air Force many years ago. (It's not one of those aircraft that makes it to magazine covers.) It has an ungainly sit, looking more like a 1950s era Soviet design than something an American engineer would create. The nose-mounted engine looks like it could have been the result of a barroom bet among the designers after wrapping up a more conventional two-engine configuration. "Hey Jerry, I'll bet you fifty bucks I can stick an R-1820 on the nose and the Air Force brass will eat it up!"


You can learn more about the Raider’s history on the museum’s web site,  but to make a long story short, only 23 Raiders were produced, so it’s a near-miracle that any manufacturer would choose to produce a kit of it. That said, I’ve always been intimidated by resin, and a lot of modelers I talk to feel the same way. I understand that resin is often the only choice for limited run subjects, but I wish the resin manufacturers would partner with one of the plastic manufacturers and produce subjects like this in injected molded form. As much as I'd like to build many of these resin subjects, I just don't see struggling with resin when there are so many other models awaiting my time.

Of course you might feel differently, especially if you really want a model of the YC-125 (as one example), and I can't deny the skill of modelers who are willing to tackle resin kits. We've all seen resin kits at contests to know they can be made into masterpieces just as well as a plastic kit can be. Kudos to you willing to give these resin kits the attention they require, but they're not for me.