Saturday, January 20, 2018

Those crazy eBay prices

A recurring subject of conversation on the discussion forums and Facebook groups is the exorbitant prices we often see on Amazon for models and books in particular. I wrote about those crazy Amazon prices some time ago, and now we’re seeing algorithmic pricing on eBay. There are many companies offer software that allows eBay sellers to monitor product pricing across eBay and Amazon and adjust the prices of the seller’s items automatically.

I’d noticed some unusually high-priced models on eBay recently, but when I saw this one, a Fujimi 1/72 TA-4J for over $500, I had to dig a little deeper.


I’ve always suggested contacting sellers when you see an item that appears to be priced too high — I mean, typos do happen — so I thought I’d do just that with the seller of this model. I got right to the point:

"Hi. Is this price correct? It seems very expensive."

To their credit, the seller responded within an hour:

"Hello, thank you for contacting us. This is correct price. The sales volume of this item is decreasing, so the selling price is rising. Thank for understanding.”

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the seller. They’re paying for algorithmic pricing software but being poorly served by it. A quick search of completed eBay listings finds the same kit having sold recently for $31 and $36, with others going unsold for $29 and $30. Clearly, this model isn’t as pricey as the software believes. I could see the software suggesting a price of maybe $50, but $500 suggests to me it’s missing the mark, by a lot.

Everybody knows that no one is going to pay $500 for that Skyhawk; well, everyone except the seller it would seem. Seeing the listing provides an interesting view into the world of eBay and Amazon sellers. I wonder how much revenue they’re missing by relying too heavily on technology.

BTW, if you get a big tax refund in the next couple of months and intend to lay down $500 for the Skyhawk, I have one in my stash that I’ll let go for just $300.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The only New Year’s resolution I need

It’s not too late to break a New Year’s resolution, but is it too late to make one?

Last week, in my contribution to the Sprue Cutters Union topic about where I most improved in 2017, I briefly listed a few things that I’d like to explore this year. After reflecting a bit over the last week, though, I think I need only one resolution, and it’s very simple:

Build more models.

I could make lots of resolutions. I could resolve to finally build one of the ships in my stash, but what if I find myself unexpectedly entranced with 1/32 jets? I could resolve to spend less time reading the cantankerous debates on Facebook and the forums, but what if I get intrigued by them? I could resolve to avoid poorly engineered kits, but what if Kitty Hawk releases a 1/48 Ryan L-17 Navion? I could resolve to attend more contests, but what if they require more time than a day trip allows?

To use a cliche, at the end of the day, none of those resolutions matter. The only resolution I need is to spend more time at the workbench and increase my output. I’m most happy and content when I’m gluing and painting plastic, and even happier when I put that one final touch on my latest creation. I’ll be a year older this month, and that stash ain’t gonna build itself.


So that’s my resolution this year. Build more models. Everything else will follow.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Improvements in 2017

This week Jon at The Combat Workshop revived the Sprue Cutters Union asking us bloggers where we've improved the most this past year?

A year ago I wrote about my disappointing 2106, so I’m happy to say that 2017 has been better. I’ve finished a few models without the drama that accompanied my P-40, Rafale, and F-16 last year, and I’ve slightly expanded my skillset.

A Hasegawa 1/48 F-16A that had been on my shelf of doom for nearly two years is now complete. It sat stalled because the colors I needed (for a US Navy adversary aircraft) weren’t readily available, but when I ran across a large selection of Vallejo paints at a contest I took the plunge and decided to try them. I’d heard mixed feedback about Vallejo, both to the accuracy of their colors and to their application, but I was pleased to find they sprayed quite well...though Tamiya remains my paint of choice.


I also purchased a set of Hataka’s red label paint for a Harrier I’m building; unfortunately, I’ve struggled with the paint. No matter the thinner, the thinning ratio, or the air pressure I choose, I cannot get them to spray with any degree of finesse or consistency. I haven’t given up on Hataka completely — I have a set of their orange label paints — but I’ll be selling this set and using the proceeds to buy some meds to squash the anxiety it caused me.


Speaking of my Harrier, no one produces a canopy mask for the old ESCI kit, so I had to go old school and mask it myself. I always find the task intimidating, but I’m happy with the way it’s turned out so far. Pushing myself beyond my comfort zone like this offers a surprising degree of satisfaction.


Looking ahead to 2018 I’m anxious to explore Hataka’s orange label paints, and I’m getting an itch to build something larger than what I’ve completed the last couple of years. It may be a 1/72 B-24 or Lancaster, or I might pick up a Monogram 1/48 B-25 and see what I can do in that scale.

No matter the trials and tribulations I face, I still enjoy the hobby. If only I had more time for it!

Happy New Year!

Here are other contributors to this Sprue Cutters Union topic.

Motorsport Modeller
Yet Another Plastic Modeler


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Three lessons I learned from NASCAR

I'm a NASCAR fan. I like everything about the sport  — the technology, marketing, fans, drivers, teamwork, and the coordination required to maneuver a car around the track. It's a multifaceted sport that many detractors don't understand. But hey, I don't understand cricket, so to each his own.

I'm not sure I'd make a good NASCAR driver. I've never liked competition (even though I'm a big advocate for entering contests), but watching NASCAR has taught me a lot about competing in scale model contests. With the 2017 model contest season behind us now, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on three things I learned from watching NASCAR over the years.



Focus on one thing at a time

NASCAR drivers and their crews focus on one race at a time. In the week leading up to a race everyone is focused on what it takes to perform optimally on that particular track. For me, as a modeler, that means building only one model at a time. I know many of you have two, five, ten projects going at once, but I'm convinced that we'd be better modelers if we finished the model on the workbench rather than spread our time over four, five, or more models at a time.

Sometimes the other guy is better

Only one drive will win each race. The drivers understand that their careers aren't over if they don't win any particular race, or even the season championship. Kurt Busch was NASCAR’s 2004 champion yet finished the 2012 season in 25th place, and without a single win. There are better modelers in the hobby, but I don't let that diminish my enjoyment of the hobby. Drivers put every loss behind them and look for ways to improve their performance the following week. I try to follow their example. I usually don't place at the contests I enter. (I'm a sloppy modeler.) If you’re one of the few modelers who’s driven to win (though most of you are not), learn from the loss and look for ways to improve your next model.

Be gracious when you lose

Aside from the rare, bad call from NASCAR officials, the drivers are almost always gracious when they lose. They thank their sponsors, pit crew, and the guys back in the shop. They acknowledge their strengths and their weaknesses. It's too easy for modelers to lose sight of the simple enjoyment of building models and sharing them with our friends, which is what the hobby is ultimately all about.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Five weird things in my workshop

It’s surprising how your workshop can accumulate all kinds of unusual things over time. Even though I keep my shop pretty clean and organized, there are a number of items that don’t have a role in my day-to-day modeling yet have found a place among the tools, paints, and pigments. I thought I’d share a few with you.

This toy block from my childhood.


This lug nut, from NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne’s #9 car, from the 2008 race at the Pocono Raceway.


My late mother’s “stress pencil.” When groomed, it’s reasonably attractive. When you’re stressed out, she would explain, spin the pencil between your hands and watch its hair go askew.


A few years ago I underwent an Invisalign treatment, and the dentist gave me this plaster cast of my teeth when I was done.


In 2005 I went to a campy New Years party that was headlined by Debbie Gibson. This is the postcard that advertised the party. The highlight of the evening was when I reached up to the stage during “Lost in Your Eyes” and she touched my hand.


Okay, I've embarrassed myself with this. Now it's your turn. What unusual things are in your workshop?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Multiple builds don’t work for me

I usually have two models on my workbench at any given time, one is in the construction phase and the other is in the painting and weathering phase. This works for me, because I can work on one model while the other one sets up or dries.

Unfortunately, at the moment I have three models on my workbench, each of them in the painting stage, and it’s bumming me out. I’ve been spending a good bit of time at the workbench recently, but progress is slow-going. I'll spend an afternoon on the F-16 and make good progress, but the Harrier and Guardian remain untouched. Or I'll spend two hours masking the Harrier and the F-16 hasn't moved to the next stage.


Completing a model is a satisfying experience, but completion of any one of these models feels like a long way off. I think the only way I can actually complete one of them is to devote my time to just one, then another, and then the third.

In the meantime, no matter how I proceed with finishing them, my interest in other models in my stash is growing. There’s the Academy A-37, for which I pulled a dozen books from the shelf to study loadouts. I’ve been itching to do another multi-engine bomber, so my Minicraft B-24 is calling my name. There have been a lot of conversations over the last few months about Soviet and Russian aircraft, which has been sparking an interest in that genre for me.

When I have multiple models on the workbench, the key — for me — is to stay focused on those projects and not let myself get distracted. I just need to get back down to two models so I can find that focus.

From posts to Facebook groups and discussions I’ve seen online it’s not uncommon for modelers to have literally a dozen or more models in various stages of construction and painting. If you’re one of those modelers, I’m curious to hear how you manage that queue and how it affects your enthusiasm for them.

Friday, October 13, 2017

How to search your favorite web site

There's been some buzz on Hyperscale and ARC recently about the sites' search features. Apparently they're not working as advertised, which I suspect can be attributed to a bug in the software used to host the sites or a bad configuration setting deep in the network somewhere. I’m sure it will be fixed in time, but there’s a very easy and effective way to search your favorite forum or web site that doesn’t force you to rely on a web site’s search algorithm, which can sometimes be hit or miss.

To begin, you need to know the URL of the site you intend to search. It’s that long, sometimes convoluted string of text at the top of your browser window. It looks something like this.


The key component of the URL is what precedes the .com or .net, what’s known as the domain name. In the example above, which shows the News section of Armorama, the domain name is armorama.com. What follows the .com is just the more discrete address to the News section.

If you want to search Armorama, Google is your friend, as they say. That minimalistic search box that you've seen on their home page is all you need. Simply write a search query that's composed of two components.

The first component consists of the key words you want to search. For example, if you’re looking for information about the Takom King Tiger, those three words are probably your best bet. If you are looking for information about King Tigers in general, you’ll probably use just the words King Tiger.

The second component is the domain name of the site you want to search. In our example, that’s armorama.com, but you want to put the word site: in front of it (including the colon), which tells Google, "Hey Google! I want you to look for these word only within this web site. Nowhere else!"

What you wind up with is a search phrase that looks like this.


The search results on submitting the search look like this.


It’s that easy…for the most part.

Here are a few tips from my experience as a software manager in my day job and as a scale modeler who enjoys searching the web.

Google does a good job of displaying what it believes to be the most relevant search results at the top, but if your search returns too many hits, you can narrow the results several ways. Just add more search terms. When I searched for takom king tiger site:armorama.com, you see that I got 504 results. If your interest is specifically in the interior that Takom provides, add the term interior to the search words. That reduced my search results down to 222 pages.

Use quotation marks. When you put a search phrase in quotation marks, Google will look for that precise string of words. For example, if I search “takom king tiger” site:armorama.com Google will give me only pages with that specific phrase. It won’t return articles about the Dragon King Tiger, unless that model happens to be mentioned on a page where the phase Takom King Tiger is found.

Google lets you refine a search by date, displaying only those web pages that were created or updated within a specified period of time. From the search results, click the Tools item and then select the date range you want to use, or enter your own using the Custom Range option.


Maybe you’re searching for information about the King Tiger and seeing too many articles about the Takom kit. You can exclude pages from your search results that contain the word Takom by putting a hyphen (the minus sign) in front of the word you want to exclude.


There are additional ways to restrict your search. You can learn about them on Google's support site, or you can use Google’s own Advanced Search page if you don't want to commit these specialized strategies to memory.

A brief note about searching scale modeling web sites, and particularly discussion forums.

Your search results are relevant based not only on the search terms you choose but also on the words that web site authors and forum participants use. For example, if you’re looking for information about the F-105’s use in Vietnam and using the search terms thunderchief vietnam, you’re likely to miss pages and discussions where all references to the aircraft are as the Thud. Or maybe you’re looking to see if the AIM-9M was used in the Gulf War but everyone referred to it as the Nine-Mike ‘Winder. As you compose your search, think about other ways that modelers might have talked about the subject. (And if you contribute to online conversions, try to use widely accepted words and terms so that your wisdom can be found in the future.)

Like scale modeling itself, searching is a skill that takes trial and error to give you the confidence that you’re getting the information you seek. There’s an incredible amount of information out there that’s literally at your fingertips. Go get it!