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!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reconsidering cheating

My recent article about the use of aftermarket really struck a nerve among a large number of you. Based on the comments I received here on the blog, on my Facebook page, and in a closed Facebook group you vehemently disagreed, and you didn’t mince words in letting me know. It's even resulted in a new hashtag, #cheating. To you I say…message heard loud and clear!

Demonstrations outside the Scale Model Soup editorial offices last week.

I love the passion you have for our hobby, and I appreciate your feedback, no matter how you expressed it. I always listen to criticism with an open mind and re-evaluate my opinions when presented with new information and viewpoints, and I see now that I fell short when it came to my views on "cheating."

Where was I off base? Two things come to mind.

In hindsight I think the word "cheating" was unnecessarily pejorative and accusatory. Cheating implies you’re doing something wrong. As many of you pointed out, this is a hobby where each of us is building models for ourselves, so how can you "cheat?" A better term would've been "taking shortcuts." For example, if I drive from Atlanta to Dallas and take a shortcut to save an hour off the drive, no one will accuse me of cheating, right? Let’s go with "shortcut" going forward.

My second gaffe was my overestimating the importance of craftsmanship in the hobby — that is, the process of building a model. Many of you commented that the ends (the model in your display case) is more important than the means (the products you use to create it). You’re willing to take shortcuts to create a satisfying representation of a favorite aircraft, tank, ship, or vehicle; you have no interest in detailing cockpits, reshaping inaccurate noses, or adding plumbing to landing gear bays. I get that now.

So here I am a week later with a better understanding of how others enjoy the hobby. I knew that writing a blog would be a learning process and might be difficult at times. Here’s a sample of some of the feedback I received.

"Scale modeling is a fantastic example of one arena wherein you're forced to become proficient in a series of skills in order to produce something truly beautiful."

And…

"There is some skill and craftsmanship needed with some of the aftermarket stuff. I'd like to know how bending and or rolling photoetch does not require skill."

And…

"I absolutely agree. I mean, craftsmanship is what we do, right?" But, he continues, "Does the proliferation of aftermarket really diminish the skill sets of craftsmen, or does it inspire and draw in modelers, encouraging them to try things they might have feared to try?"

These are good points that I hadn’t considered deeply enough. Ironically, as I wrote that original article I was selling a particularly complex photoetch set because I don’t have the skill required to assemble it. My hat’s off to those of you who can work magic with photoetch or are willing to take the time to grind and sand a resin cockpit or engine to fit it into a model. That’s craftsmanship. Frankly, anything that motivates you to build model after model is good for the hobby.

"The older we get...I'm 56, the less and less time I will be able to build what I have. So I buy the stuff that corrects what I would have to do but now don’t."

I can relate. I’m fast approaching 50 myself with more models in the stash than I have time to build. I've written about how to speed up your builds and increase your output. If aftermarket lets you do that, that’s a good thing.

"Results are what count, not the process." 

And…

"Are you trying to show off your personal skills, or are you trying to build the best possible scale representation of the prototype? Personally, all I care about is the finished model."

Several of you told me that the end model is the important part of the hobby to you. That’s as valid an approach to the hobby as any other. One person implied that he’d like to scratchbuild but knows he doesn’t have the requisite skills. He said, "So what happens when you scratchbuild your own parts and they suck?" In response I’d say that you learn from the experience and try again...if you want to. My own use of pigments ended horribly, as did my first attempt at rigging a 1/72 biplane, but I press on with the hope that every model I build gets a little bit better.

"The arrogance of everyone has to enjoy the hobby in only the way I see fit."

And…

"Everyone needs someone else to look down on I guess."

And...

"I just checked my workshop rule book and it reads this guy's an ass."

I’m sorry you interpreted the article that way. Some of my statements were a bit harsh, even though I admitted that I cheat, too. No one has the right to tell us how to build our models, but everyone has the right to talk about the choices we make.

And since I opened the article with an analogy to cooking, one reader took me to task in the kitchen.

"Chances this guy has ever made his own gravy? I'm guessing about 10% so he cheats at breakfast."

Actually, I do make my own sausage gravy. And my own BBQ sauce, my own tomato sauce, my own coleslaw, and my own ice cream. Cooking is my other passion, and I most enjoy preparing meals when I can do so from scratch. I do admit that I keep a jar of Progresso tomato sauce in the cupboard for weeknight meals. A shortcut? Yes.

"Make sure to ask him if it's cheating if he doesn't approve comments that disagree with him."

No cheating here. I don’t delete comments, not from my blog nor from my Facebook page. In fact, the harshest comments I received were in a Facebook group where I have no ability to edit them, and I’m sharing a few here.

"Make sure you have an adblocker of some sort enabled so he doesn't get any revenue from the traffic generated."

And...

"Its all clickbait. Some of the modellers that have pages/websites/youtube channels have started to follow the mainstream media style of posting inflammatory articles, causing a plethora of emotion and plenty of web clicks/page hits. They then go to manufacturers saying 'I have xx amount of hits today, give me free stuff, and you'll get xx amount of people seeing your product…'"

Fake news. Clearly, this person has never visited Scale Model Soup otherwise he’d know there are absolutely no ads on the blog. I average only 75 page views per day, which might generate two or three dollars a month at best, and certainly not enough to entice anyone to give me free products. I have just over 1,000 Likes on Facebook, which pales in comparison to other bloggers who have 10-20 times more. No one is thinking about me when they want to promote a product.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this exchange, where M. asked, "Who gives a shit what he says? Its his opinion...doesn't affect or change anything,” to which B. responded, "I need something to get mad about or my time is being wasted on the web.” I think that pretty much explains this whole kerfuffle.

Back to the workbench, with or without aftermarket.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sausage gravy and the slow demise of craftsmanship

Editor's Note: After you read this article, be sure to read my follow-up, Reconsidering cheating.

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!