Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lessons learned from the Olympics

The Olympics are well behind us now, and after watching a number of the events over those two weeks I’ve been reflecting on what the experience must be like for the athletes who didn't win, or who didn't place as high as expected.


I’ve been an advocate here on Scale Model Soup for entering contests. In light of the Olympic experience, there are a few lessons we scale modelers might consider relative to our participation in contests so that we’re not completely dejected when we don’t win.

Sometimes you have a bad day

American skater Nathan Chen was expected to medal, but numerous stumbles in the short program ultimately put him in 17th place and kept him off the podium.

Lesson: Although the act of building a scale model doesn’t happen within the span of one to three minutes, I think we all know the experience of building a model that doesn’t reflect what we believe to be our true potential. Don’t let one or two shabby models diminish your confidence. Press on and build another model.

Even when you fall short you can still do great things

Speaking of Nathan Chen, even though he didn't medal, he was the first competitor to land five quadruple jumps in one program.

Lesson: Many of you have seen thousands of models over the years, either at contests or online, and a number of them are memorable to you. Did they win first place in their categories? Maybe; maybe not. If your model isn’t perfect — if a significant flaw kept it from winning — remember that it may be memorable to the contest attendees. Build something great and it will be remembered whether you win or not.

You can redeem yourself

Shaun White, who was widely regarded as the snowboarding king, had a disappointing experience at the 2014 Olympics, placing fourth in the halfpipe event. He redeemed himself in PyeongChang by winning gold.

Lesson: So you didn’t win first place in your favorite category? You made mistakes and the judges found them? Pick yourself up, learn how to improve, and try again. The good news is you don't have to wait four years!

The line between first and second place can be razor-thin

In the Alpine Skiing-Women's Super-G, the difference between Ester Ledecka’s gold medal and Anna Veith’s silver was just 1/100 of a second.

Lesson: I’ve judged in enough contests to know first-hand that the line between first place and second place (or second or third, or third and zilch) can come down to the most seemingly inconsequential item. If you fall short of where you hoped to be, remember that what the judges found might have been an incredibly small distinction between you and the guy who won. (Unfortunately in mosts contests you’ll almost never know just how close you came to winning.)

Comparing professional athletes to hobbyists isn’t really fair. Athletes invest much more time and money in their pursuit of gold, but I think we can learn something from the Olympics. If anything we can look to the Olympic Creed, which says in part:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.”

And so it is with scale model contests as well.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The most unusual place I've purchased a model

This week Jon at The Combat Workshop asked this question to The Sprue Cutters Union: What is the most unusual place you’ve ever purchased a kit.

The year was 1985. I was in high school and working part-time at a local grocery store. We had a small toy section in the non-foods area of the store, and among the items intended for five year-olds was a small selection of MPC model kits.

The 1/72 F-86D caught my attention, but I didn’t buy it immediately. I’d pass it every time I had to run for a price check in that part of the store and every evening I’d “close” and be tasked with corning sweeping and dust mopping. I would imagine how I might build it and paint it, but I never pulled the trigger. This went on for months and months.


One day I finally bought the model. It was only five or six dollars as I recall, so it didn’t impact my meager budget all that much. I suppose that was the most unusual place I’ve ever purchased a kit, a grocery store. That’s a pretty lame story, I must admit. I hope other members of the Union have more compelling stories to share.

Ironically, I never build the model.

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?