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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The joys of old decals

There’s no shortage of aftermarket decals these days with dozens of companies producing decals in every scale and for nearly every subject. Sadly, some of these decals don’t perform very well. No names, but there are plenty of conversations on the forums and Facebook with modelers expressing their frustration over decals that are too thin, fold over onto themselves, break up, or are simply inaccurate.

Amid all these choices it’s easy to forget the forerunner of the aftermarket decal business, Microscale. I’ve collected a ton of their decals over my years in the hobby. None of today’s manufacturers has come close (yet) to producing as many choices as Microscale (and later Super Scale). Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that their older decals can be fragile. Quite often they'll shatter into a million pieces as they come off the backing paper.

That’s why it’s always a treat to use a really old set of decals and not experience any issues. That was my experience as I finished my Hasegawa 1/72 Ki-51 Sonia a few weeks ago. The kit decals were terribly dry and yellowed, so I dug into my (decal) stash and found sheet 72-5, which might be older than me. (Does anyone know when Microscale started producing decals?)


A day or two after the usual application of Future floor wax on the model and using Microscale’s Sol and Set products, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the decals did not shatter and laid down onto the model quite nicely. They’re not as thin as Microscale’s later releases, but all things considered, they look decent. A bit of Solvaset didn't hurt.

The lesson is, don’t dismiss older decals. They might just work out.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

We visit the 2017 AMPS International Convention

I’ve been going to Armorcon in Danbury, Connecticut for several years now, so I was thrilled when AMPS chose Danbury for their 2017 International Convention. Armorcon is a good show, but this weekend’s convention was a great show.

The contest is the core of every convention, so with just over 600 entries there’s no denying the success of this year’s show. AMPS makes a strong effort to accommodate all modelers’ skill level — Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced categories offer a place for every modeler. Each model is judged individually and scored as objectively as possible. A team of Associate Chief Judges reviews the scores of all the models, looking for consistency and unusual outliers, and when aberrations are found, ask the judges to review their scores. A friend who was involved in the judging told me this was done several times during the two shifts that he worked. Kudos to the organizers and leadership for doing all they can to create a competitive but fair environment. (Read more about the AMPS judging philosophy here.)

Armorcon’s strength has always been its vendor room, so it’s no surprise that the International Convention’s vendor room was a compelling attraction. There were a number of vendors selling practically every armor kit currently in production. Other vendors offered a huge assortment of painting and weathering products — Mig Ammo, Vallejo, Wilder, Hataka, you name it, it was there. And there were a handful of vendors selling books and magazines ranging in price from $5 to $500. I don’t think anyone walked out of that room empty-handed. The only weakness might have been the lack of modelers selling models from their private collections; there were only one or two, so true bargains were few and far between.

There were seminars, too, another credit to the convention organizers. It’s unfortunate that contest attendees enjoy seminars only at national or international conventions like this one. I wish clubs that sponsor small, local shows would make the effort to do the same for their customers.

Next year’s convention is in my old neighborhood, Dayton, Ohio. Until then, here are some of the models that stood out for me.

My favorite entry was this Dragon 1/35 Su-100. Perfectly built and finished.


The most interesting model on the tables was this 1/35 jeep and carrier pigeon conversion. Most unusual and fascinating!


There were a number of really well done T-34s.



I've always had an affinity for the M5A1. This example was as well done as any I've seen.


I've also had a long interest in IDF subjects. This Tiran was expertly finished, I suspect with a very effective black base.


At every contest there's always one model of a subject that hadn't been on my radar but, upon seeing it, prompts me to say, "Damn, I gotta build me one of those!" This weekend it was this nicely done Dragon 1/35 Su-76i.


There were many, many more great looking models. Watch the AMPS Facebook page and the forums for more photos.

See you next year!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Inspiration: Diego Quijano

I’ve met many excellent modelers in my 30 years in the hobby and seen the work of hundreds online and in print, but there are a handful that have truly inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or approach to the hobby shaped the modeler I am today. This is another installment in a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions.

One of the best models I’ve ever seen — albeit, never in person — is Diego Quijano's 1/72 Fujimi F/A-18A Hornet. It’s one of the handful of models I’ve seen over the years that’s remained in the front of my mind and serveed as an example of the qualities that I try to incorporate into my own work. The model reflects Diego’s diverse talents, and I can think of few modelers who attain this level of excellence.


You’ve probably seen this F-18; photos of it have circulated in magazine articles, on the web, and on Facebook for many years now. It’s just one of a large number of models that you can see on Diego's web site, and I have no doubt that you’ll be as impressed with his work as I am.

Here’s what inspires me about Diego's modeling.

Years ago an early mentor of mine pointed out that modelers tend to reside somewhere between engineer and artist. That is, we tend to be really good at building and detailing models, or we tend to be really good at painting and weathering them. Few modelers do both exceptionally well, but Diego is one of them.

Diego understands composition. He’s not always content to display his models on a flat base. He’s willing to take risks by displaying models in extreme vignettes, such as his Shades of Death, as only one example.

Diego builds science fiction. Check out his Jedi Fighter and you’ll see that it’s not hard to imagine him building models for a Hollywood studio.

Of course it’s with aircraft that Diego truly excels. In addition to the F-18, the natural metal finish of his 1/48 Fw-190, about as realistic as I've ever seen in scale, is further evidence of his skill.

And the best thing is, Diego doesn’t keep any of his techniques secret! He’s published five books that explain his techniques, an investment that’s probably worth everything that you’ll learn, particularly if you’re new to the hobby. He also has a Facebook page, but don't send him a friend request; he seems to have reached the software-imposed limit on maximum friends.

Someday I hope to meet him.

My thanks to Diego for allowing me to use one of the photo of his F-18.


Read more about other inspiring modelers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fencecheck is no more

One of my favorite web sites for modern military aviation has long been Fencecheck. It was a hangout for aviation photographers — amateur and professional alike — and was a valuable repository for us modelers. Unfortunately, I learned over the weekend that the owner of the site has shut it down.

The good news is that many Fencecheck participants are now collaborating and sharing photos in a new group on Flickr, aptly named Re-Check, which is fine for new photos going forward, but what about all the photos that had been posted on Fencecheck?

All is not completely lost. Although there’s no way to view the old discussion threads (they’re not accessible via the Wayback Machine), you can find many of the photos using Google. Here’s how.

Let’s say you’re looking for photos of T-38Cs for your upcoming build of the Trumpeter kit. Go to Google Images and enter this search query:

“T 38C" site:fencecheck.com/forums/


Most — but not all — of the resulting photos should be accessible. Simply click on an image, click the View Image button, and enjoy the photograph.

You can search for photos of any other aircraft, base, exercise, or unit by replacing T-38C as appropriate, for example Red Flag. And if it’s not obvious, you can use the same search strategy to find photos from other web sites; simply replace fence check.com/forums/ with the URL of the web site of interest.

Happy searching!