Monday, September 30, 2013

Models and money

Last week the Sprue Cutters Union's topic had to do with our spending habits. I'm coming into the conversation a little late, but reading others' thoughts on the subject got me thinking about how I spend my money. Of course this kind of self-reflection, especially when it comes to money, can be painful, but looking over the responses by the Union's participants gives me hope that most of us are fairly careful.

I can haz a Su-24?
One of the recurring themes when it comes to money is our working with a limited budget. In that respect, I'm lucky. I'm not wealthy, mind you; I don't drive the Aston Martin Vanquish that I'd love to have, nor can I afford to pave my short, gravel driveway, but being single and having a decent job allows me the privilege of being able to afford most of the plastic thingees that catch my eye. My modeling budget is constrained only by the other necessities of any home budget, such as building and maintaining an emergency fund, paying for heating costs, the rising price of gas, etc.

I know, it's a good problem to have, right? But when I sit amid my stash of a few hundred unbuilt models (it could be 150,000, I've lost count) and realize that I'm in my mid-forties, I'm forced to acknowledge that when I die most of these models will still be unbuilt. That makes me very sad; not that I'll die (well, that kinda sucks, too), but that so many projects -- and I have a vision for each model that I own, as I'm sure you do as well -- will not come to fruition. There's a chance I may never build that Kinetic F-16D in MiG killer markings of the 56th FW! What will my friends say? "That Steve. He never fulfilled his destiny. How sad." And then they'll fight over the model and the related aftermarket.

These days I find myself being very selective in what I buy. It's tempting to buy every cool new release, but just how high is my enthusiasm for that new Wolfpack 1/48 T-38? Sure, I'd like to build it, but there are so many more models in the pipeline that I'm much more excited about. Maybe that's the trick in managing our money. Before you buy a model, ask yourself, does this model get me more excited than the "top 20" models already in my stash? If the answer is no, you can probably skip it.
Here's what I've learned about buying models these last few years.

1. If you don't buy a model when it's first released, odds are good that you'll be able to find it on eBay or from another modeler 5, 10, 15 years from now. True, the price may be higher, but that will determine just how much you want the model.

Real life example: When Hasegawa released their 1/72 series of F-111s I was spending my time building armor. Fast-forward ten years and I'm back to aircraft, but alas, I ain't got an F-111 in my stash! It took a few years, but I've since acquired one each from the series, which makes me one step closer to what Maslow referred to as "self-actualization." Or something like that.

2. To point #1, even if you never buy that one rare model you've been looking for, aren't there at least ten others that you own that will provide just as much satisfaction?

Real life example: I'd like to have the old Otaki C-5 Galaxy. I'm not sure it's rare, but it generally sells for around $120. I will probably never get one, but I'm pretty sure a few dozen of the other kits in my stash will keep me very happy over the next 40 years of my life.

3. If there's an expensive kit you want, wait for it. There's a good chance you'll find it at a good price in the future. It may not be this year or even next year, but eventually you'll find it on sale via Squadron, Sprue Brothers, or at a contest.

Real life example: I've wanted the Trumpeter 1/48 Su-24 since I saw it at a contest several years ago, but the $130 price tag put me off. I just couldn't justify that much money for a model. But then Squadron had it on sale for about half that, and I took the bait. Add in a couple of other models for friends and I got their free shipping deal as well.

I've ranted long enough. Time to log off of SMS and go check the classified on ARC and Hyperscale.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A visit to Penncon 2013

I had the pleasure today of attending a local IPMS contest that I've never been to before, Penncon in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, sponsored by Central Pennsylvania IPMS. By "local" I mean, a local contest, as opposed to a regional contest. It wasn't local in terms of my three-hour drive. I'm not complaining; I love me a good road trip every now and then. Making it more enticing was its being held at The United States Army Heritage & Education Center. (More on that later.) And even more enticing when a friend agreed to meet me there.

Penncon was a nice contest. It wasn't large -- the contest and vendors were in one room -- but the quality of the contest entries was high, and the people extremely friendly. You can't beat the location, so I can hope the contest grows over the next several years.

Here's a selection of some of my favorite entries in the contest.

Sharp little resin Selbstfahrlette fur 7.5cm Pak40 Auf Somua.

Tasca M4A3E2 Jumbo Sherman. Nice to see armor that's not over-weathered.

Perfectly weathered 1958 Plymouth Belvedere.

My favorite in the contest, a 1/32 Special Hobby X-15-A2.

Check out the crisply executed plumbing on the X-15's external tanks!

A Pit Road 1/144 Vulcan. Cripes, that's a nice kit for the scale!

Stunning Trumpeter 1/32 Me262 B-1/U1.

Perfectly executed conversion of a Czech Model F-80C to a B,
with camouflage typically seen on 56th Fighter Group P-47s.

Beautiful Revell 1/144 Airbus A321 by my friend Joe Volz.

Nicely painted and weathered RSO Radschlepper Ost.

A final thought on the Army Center. If you're ever in the area you should stop by. The focus of the museum is on the American soldier, and you'll find a variety of nice displays explaining the role and life of the soldier from the Civil War through Afghanistan. Each display has a good deal of explanatory placards, so you'll be sure to leave smarter than when you came. There are a few pieces of armor on the grounds if heavy metal is your thing, but the real value will be found inside.

Monday, September 2, 2013

National Geographic Channel's combat shows

With the IPMS Nats two weeks behind us, it's time to look for new ideas and inspiration. I've been wanting to write about the various "reality" shows about soldiers that have been airing this year. Three of the best are on the National Geographic Channel  -- Inside Combat Rescue, Battleground Afghanistan, and Eyewitness War.

Each show embeds you with a combat unit thanks to the portability of digital video recorders such as the GoPro. There's no narrator. There are no scripts. It's just the camera mounted on a soldier's helmet as he goes into battle. You've probably seen these shows; the live action captured by the cameras is explained through a series of integrated interviews with the participants who survived the action.
This is television at its best. Most of us have never experienced combat, so our impressions are based on what we see in movies, and even well researched movies like Saving Private Ryan may fail to capture what it's like. With that in mind, several aspects of the combat shown on these TV shows struck me, and I share them with you.

More often than not, you can't see the enemy you're shooting at. When the bullets start flying, the best you can do is aim in the general direction that you think they're coming from until someone can get a fix on the enemy's specific position. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be.
Most firefights are fought at a great distance from the enemy, often 200-300 meters or more. This makes locating the enemy extremely difficult, much less hitting him. That our soldiers can do so, is incredible to me.

Some of the engagements shown on these shows can be very lengthy, and the possibility of running out of ammunition is a frightening reality. So much ammo is spent just to pin the enemy down that in time you have very little left with the hope of actually taking him out.

The capabilities that UAVs bring to the battlefield has revolutionized the way war our soldiers conduct war. Although the screens are blurred in the show for security reasons, it's clear that battlefield commanders have an incredibly clear image of the enemy's activities thanks to the Predator and similar aircraft. This real-time data allows soldiers to engage the enemy in ways their predecessors could only dream of 60 years ago. Or even 15 years ago!

Air assets end pretty much every firefight. When the troops on the ground can't get a foothold, it's impressive to see how quickly a single machine gun burst from an Apache or LGB from an F-16 can give our troops the upper hand.

As quickly as allied forces can act on a situation, it seems to me that most battles are relatively indecisive. Unlike earlier wars, we're not advancing in a single direction and taking control of land and towns as we go. The entire exercise looks very hit or miss, and our soldiers are making the best of the small victories along the way. I can't help but feel bad for them when "winning" this war is such an unclear goal.

You can find these shows on Amazon Instant Video.