Sunday, April 29, 2018

Paying it forward

Here are a couple of heartwarming stories about friends giving me free stuff.

I was 14 years old and had been building models for a few years, not really knowing what I was doing. Somehow I learned about IPMS Ocala (Florida), which met in a neighboring town. I didn’t have a driver’s license, so my mother generously drove me to the meetings and would shop while I made new friends and learned about the finer aspects of scale modeling. A few of the club members were particularly helpful and took me under their wings, and I was eventually invited to their homes to see their workshops, stashes, and book collections.

I remember visiting the home of Alan Royer, who was an extremely talented truck modeler. I spent a couple of hours with him as he showed me the models he was working on, explained how he converted them, and introduced me to the tools and material he used to build them. I’d never seen sheet plastic or tubing. Alan used liquid glue, not the Testors goo I had at home. The experience was, as they say, like drinking from a fire hose. There was so much I didn’t know about this hobby.

What I most remember about my visit with Alan was his generosity. He shared with me everything he knew, and when I left, he gave me a selection of sheet plastic and tubing that I could use for my own modeling. That was incredibly kind of him, and it set an example for how I should encourage other modelers that I would meet in the future.

Fast-forward thirty’ish years. Last month a friend emailed me and told me that he was downsizing his collection and included a few photos of the models he wanted to get rid of. The subject line said it all, “Free to a good home.” And here’s the thing. He wasn’t offering me a bunch of moldy old Revell and Lindberg kits from the 1960s. These were primo, new-tool kits that would easily sell for $30 or more on eBay.

I’ve had enough conversations with this friend over the last couple of years to know his downsizing is an exercise to de-clutter his life; simply getting the models out of his home is his priority. Still, it was incredibly generous of him to outright give me the models rather than sell them. And when I went to his office to pick up the three models I asked for (I didn’t want to be selfish and ask for everything), he’d added a few more that he knew I’d be interested in.

I reflect on these two moments because they’re meaningful. There’s no better way to “pay it forward” than to be generous with your time and the things that you value. It could be a small item such as a bottle of paint or a photoetch set, or it could be a model — or two or five or twenty-five.

I’ve written about the signs that your stash is out of control and about what might happen to your stash when you die. If you find yourself downsizing your collection, consider giving away some of your models to friends or the younger modelers you know. Take a few to the next contest and give them to one of the youngsters in attendance. Paying it forward, giving away something of value, may make an impression on someone who will be building models 30 years from now.

And to my friend Adrian, thank you!

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.