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WATERMARKS

10/05/17- Wassup with all the frickin' watermarks?

I don't mind if visitors download my website's pics-- heck, I download tons of pics whenever I'm researching projects! Through the years though, I've stolen and hosted pics to use in my articles. Hosting a copy is bad because it usurps the owner's control of the image. I don't do it to claim credit for the pics: I do it instead of linking to avoid the possibility of a big ugly hole in the article if the source image should disappear or move (as they frequently do). Even worse, sometimes I don't even remember where I got the image! That's a good reason to watermark pics.

Besides the legal issue, stealing images is a hot button issue of ethics. I suppose that being hypocritical is part of being human, as is feeling the need to rationalize: I've tried to avoid that in this post (even though I've already done it).

I don't sell anything, so stolen pics don't hurt me like most folks who commented in the article about Pinterest; however, I'm irritated by assholes who don't give credit for something that doesn't belong to them.

A comment in the article did ring true: Basically, the Internet and humans being what they are, why not use watermarks? It's true that they don't improve the viewer's experience, and they're easy enough to defeat if anyone wants to go through the trouble, but otherwise, watermarks can help show the source of the pic where no other attribution is given.

Watermarking the pics was just a minor website maintenance task and (occasionally) I like doing that kind of stuff. There are reasonably-priced utility programs out there (I used uMark) that made it quick and easy to batch watermark the decades of pics that I've uploaded to this website. The most tedious part was weeding out those pics that I didn't want to watermark: Hopefully, I got them all since it's extremely bad form to watermark an image that isn't yours!

 


STEAKDOM 2017

rib-eye steak

07/14/17- I don't claim to be an authority on this, but I do like eating steaks, especially rib-eyes. By my reckoning, they're one of the finer things in life. For that, I can ignore folks who say that cows' incessant farting will destroy the world as we know it, and that steaks are brutally carved from a (once) living creature. I prefer to focus on buying well-marbled cow-parts, grilling them, and eating them. This article is about hardware-- the hardware to grill flavorful steaks for two people, cooked rare ("still mooing").

Ultra Sear Portable Infrared Grill: About 10 years ago, I stumbled across an Ultra Sear infrared grill for $125. At the time, I didn't know jack about infrared grills (they're a specialized grill that cooks at a higher temperature; great for searing, but not for low & slow). It's a small grill, perfectly suited for cooking steaks for two.

Best damned rib-eyes I'd ever grilled!

Since then we've grilled hundreds of rib-eyes on that grill, and I can't remember the last time we went to a steakhouse. With a good cut of meat, I can't imagine a steakhouse doing it any tastier.

old Ultra Sear portable infrared grill

old Ultra Sear portable infrared grill, hood open

Despite being kept outdoors, the Ultra Sear is still grilling tasty rib-eyes. It's as grubby-looking as you'd expect any old unpampered workhorse grill to be: The original grate has long since rusted out, the burner's protective screen has disintegrated, and bits of the ceramic burner have sloughed off... but I'd found ways to keep it grilling. Being a forward-thinking guy, I started worrying about the possibility that someday it might refuse to boot... er... cook steaks. I did online searches for replacement parts, but it was like the nameless company had disappeared, or had never existed!

It appears that the Ultra Sear is a Chinese (Kowloon) clone/rip-off of the Solaire Anywhere portable infrared grill, which was designed and made in the US of A. Outwardly, they look almost identical: The Ultra Sear has a different logo and a slide-out drip tray on the bottom. That would explain why info about the Ultra Sear is nowhere to be found these days except in circa-2007 posts on grilling forums... and why the Rankam Group's trademark registration filing was abandoned in 2007. Because of this, I scanned a copy of the Ultra Sear manual (5.5MB). I figured that they wouldn't mind, but I wouldn't recommend calling them to ask about replacement parts!

Solaire Anywhere portable infrared grill

Unfortunately, the Solaire cost three to four times as much, so I deferred purchase and watched its price creep up over the years. I finally decided to bite the bullet. (So the 2008 Ultra Sear actually did the sales pitch for the Solaire Anywhere grill.)

The Ultra Sear has held up remarkably well considering its age and that it's kept outdoors under a covered porch with no cover. The Solaire is made of 304 stainless steel and passed the magnet test; the Ultra Sear didn't. Nevertheless, the Ultra Sear doesn't have a spot of rust on the outside, just grime and heat discoloration. As I mentioned, the grates quickly deteriorated. Parts retaining and protecting the ceramic burner box likewise rusted and disintegrated, but they weren't essential-- it's easier to clean without them. The battery-powered ignitor could probably be made to work, but why bother? I have the secret knowledge and skill to light a burner without the built-in gizmo. (I didn't even bother installing the battery in the brand-new Solaire, and was thinking of removing it to make burner maintenance easier.) Not so for the grates-- As far as I know, there's no magical work-around for what grates do.

Grates: Grates receive the most abuse from a grill and the hotter the burner, the more abuse they get. For example, our drum smoker's cast iron grates are near-virginal; That's because the smoking chamber is indirectly heated and rarely heated over 225 degrees Fahrenheit. After use, the grates are removed, cleaned, and stored in a toolshed. On the other hand, my Weber Q gas grill's original porcelainized cast iron grates rusted to oblivion. It cooked at typical gas grill temperatures, I left the grates on the grill and cleaned them before each use. There's a relationship between how often the grill gets used, the amount of cleaning you're willing to do post-grilling and how often you have to replace the grates. Infrared grills are especially hard on grates because they reach higher temperatures; The Ultra Sear's grates deteriorated fast, so I needed to find a solution early on. I considered buying Solaire parts but didn't know if they'd fit, even though they look the same. Solaire parts aren't cheap either. (Good thing I didn't: They're not an exact-size drop-in replacement.) I tried generic adjustable/cut-to-size stainless steel and cast iron replacements, but they didn't hold up for very long. My final solution: aluminum GrillGrates.

Aluminum GrillGrates: The GrillGrates are... great! The stock 13" size didn't fit the Ultra Sear, but worked fine on top of the rusting replacement grates. The best thing about them is that they don't rust-- they blacken with carbon, but don't rust. Like the V-shaped original grates, their troughs vaporize fat drippings and prevent flareups and stuff falling through to the burner. You can put smoker pellets in the deep troughs, and they leave good-looking sear marks. They have more mass and smaller openings than the original grates, so they distribute the burner's heat very evenly. They claim to give a regular grill the qualities of an infrared grill by concentrating the heat and reducing convection air cooking (which dries out meat).

rib-eye on GrillGrates aluminum grates

They do take longer to heat up though: 7 minutes (until pellets begin smoking-- ~670° F) versus the 2-3 minutes preheat advertised for the Solaire with stock grates. It's still very propane-miserly: A tank lasts a long, long, time.

I preheat and cook with the hood down, which Solaire sternly warns (many times) as a big no-no. I don't know if the GrillGrates buffer the temperature more than the stock grates, but I've never had a problem doing this. Solaire doesn't say why, or speak of any dire consequences from doing this, other than the high temperature making the hood very hot and discoloring/bronzing the hood. I tried hood-down preheating and cooking with the new Solaire equipped with its own set of 15" GrillGrates (a perfect drop-in replacement fit for the Solaire, but not the Ultra Sear), and didn't have any problems.

I was more concerned about the GrillGrates warning about aluminum melting at ~840 degrees Fahrenheit. I've never had any hint of problems with this on the Ultra Sear or the Solaire, but then, I'm probably done cooking long before the grates reach temperatures in excess of 840 degrees. I finally got an infrared laser thermometer: After grilling this rib-eye, the grate measured about 730° F. Nevertheless, it's something you do at your own risk.

For what it's worth, I did christen the Solaire with its stock grates: Cooked a rib-eye and some Wagyu sliders. Lots of fat, overloading the grate's ability to vaporize drippings. The fat travelled to the edges, down the sides and pooled at the bottom. The grates were kind of a bitch to clean-- they have thin, sharp edges. We missed the smoke flavor, so I ordered the GrillGrates, and the next rib-eye tasted just the way we like it.

cooked side, rib-eye somoking on GrillGrates

Solaire portable infrared grill with aluminum GrillGrates and smoke pellets

It's a portable grill, which makes it easy to move from the covered porch out into the open. I don't know if it's versatile enough as a general camping grill though. We've never used it far from where there weren't other ways to cook things that you might want to eat with a steak and that require a lower cooking temperature.

Barbecue Galore 2008 Cap'n Cook Gas Grill Manual (16.4MB) Since I'm documenting obsolete & discontinued stuff, I scanned this; I couldn't find the older model's manual online, and the newer one has different parts. Maybe it'll help some folks find replacement parts.

 


MASS EFFECT CUSTOMIZING, 2017
 

04/04/17- How Not To Be Trendy: It seems like ages since I've done any sixthscale, but I did some Star Wars stuff just last year-- between the N-scale trains and guitars. As they say, "Time flies when you're having fun."

Finishing the Mass Effect trilogy had the same inspirational effect as binge-watching the Star Wars Clone War animation series. I liked the idea that both were fairly open territory-- old stuff that had already passed from popularity. This meant that the chance of manufacturers making commercial versions of what I wanted to make was very low. Yes, when you invest lots of time and effort in making something that you can't get any other way, it's very disheartening to find out that XYZ corp is making a much better version, coming out soon. I stopped doing 3-3/4" Star Wars custom figures when Hasbro started making every imaginable obscure character from the original trilogy. Dragon Models put the kibosh on my 1/6th scale WWII stuff. It's been a challenge staying out of the way of the juggernauts: Even the lewd/fringe stuff that I thought was safe territory, wasn't.

Nowadays, it's different: Attention spans are much shorter. There's always so much cool stuff coming out media-wise that the manufacturers can't dwell on everything very deeply and for any length of time, unless it's a super-popular hit with proven longevity. Because of all the new Star Wars stuff, I figured that Sideshow Toys wouldn't revisit the Clone Wars-- it's old news and will never achieve the popularity and longevity of the original trilogy. Same for the Mass Effect trilogy: The story has been told and Shepard won't be coming back to rebuild and save the galaxy again. Most of the threads at 1/6 scale forums about Mass Effect custom figures petered out years ago. ThreeZero probably won't be using their resources to revisit the series, unless a Mass Effect Andromeda backlash revives enough interest in the trilogy for EA/Bioware to revisit it. (ThreeZero is busy squeezing bucks out of Game of Thrones, while it's "hot".) So Mass Effect seems to be fairly safe territory.

Waiting until something is no longer popular isn't a deliberate strategy, at least not consciously. I'm just behind-the-times by nature-- I don't like crowds, don't follow forums, and drift in and out of interests by whim. It definitely not a winning strategy for making money!

 


IT'S A TRAP!
 

01/29/17- Another Turn of the Screw: Back in the day when broadcast TV ruled, subscription cable TV loomed on the horizon as a wonderful Blue Sky promise-- unlimited quality informational programming without commercials! Yeah, see how that turned out? The Internet had a similar promise back in the early days of innocence.

As more people become smart shopper "cable cutters" and flock to subscription services like Netflix and information behind pay walls, the jaws may be close to snapping shut. As I understand it, Cox is instituting a 1TB monthly cap in certain markets for wired Internet service. If you exceed that, you pay a hefty graduated overage fee. For most folks, 1TB is plenty... today. Tomorrow with the spread of 4K programming? Move all your data and programs to the Cloud, and enjoy your rich digital life. Just be prepared to pay all your monthly subscription fees.

P.S.- Didja know that you can still watch broadcast TV for the price of an antenna?

 


AMAZON USED TO NOT SUCK
 

08/15/16- More Internet Gone Evil: Once upon a time, Amazon was a great place to shop online. Prices were usually better than you'd find anywhere else and you'd often be surprised at how fast "free shipping" stuff arrived.

Nowadays, it's worth shopping around for better prices-- they're often not that hard to find. The unexpectedly fast shipping seems to have disappeared. Amazon is so focused on pushing their Amazon Prime subscription that it sometimes seems that they deliberately "throttle" the speed of free shipping.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that their order confirmation and shipping notification emails deliberately contain as little useful information as possible. To get the tracking number, you have to log into their website. To get an itemized list of what you bought, you have to log into their website. No doubt they want you to log into their website so that they can track and compile data on you.

Hey, it's really useful to have an email record of what you bought, from where, and when, in case you want to buy the same thing again some years later. For most vendors, I can search my email and get that information. That's true for almost every other online vendor, and it's a standard business practice. But not for Amazon.

 


BYE BYE WORDPRESS!
 

02/10/16- The Internet Gone Evil: I've migrated my WordPress content to this (very long) simple HTML page. There really wasn't any point in keeping it as a Wordpress site since I'd turned off its interactive features. I prefer a simple editing environment that doesn't require constant updates, and don't give a shit about accordian menus, dropdowns, etc., so all the WordPress goodies and overhead were overkill and wasted on me. From looking at the logs, there seemed to be some external probing of WordPress' guts-- probably innocently, by spiders... but you never know.

The Internet is a great place for smart developers to create cool stuff for us, but that creates opportunities for folks who have the skills, time, and determination to screw with that stuff and make our lives unpleasant with stuff like malware, phishing schemes, botnets, nags, stalker advertisements, data-mining, etc.

 


JUST ANOTHER ZOMBIE SITE...
 

10/11/14 & 09/13/15- Interactivity Invites RoboSpam: The experiment to add "interactivity" to the website is over, and the main lesson learned is that robots will seek you out for spamming.  It doesn't matter if you turn off comments, they'll still blow past the ineffective Captcha gatekeeper and register with bogus names and emails.  I briefly reinstated registration and within hours, had a bogus registration.  Even though commenting is still turned off.  Anyway... I've made previously private posts public so registration isn't necessary to view themThe posts are visible through the "All Posts" category on the sidebar. During the many years of neglect, the main posts page got FUBAR'd with multiple duplicate postings and there didn't seem to be an easy fix.

Soooo... without the interactivity, this became just another website (like my original "Remarks" section). WordPress is a strong platform (Content Management System) for making and maintaining websites with a consistent look, and can host a bazillion third-party add-on gadgets to give additional functionality/cool effects. Basically though, it's a template for a website, which is why the majority of them look remarkably similar. To break out of that mold, you have to be willing to dig deep with clever customizing, working within and around the framework of the template and its online editing interface. In the end, the site delivers code for a browser to read- just like any other website, regardless of the tools used to construct it.

I found the workflow of online editing to be weird and alien compared to the traditional method of editing and previewing a local copy, then uploading it. Although the template concept offers a lot of conveniences and enforces consistency, you really have to know the quirky interface well (which isn't exactly WYSIWYG) and dig deep if you want to do something different. Yeah, you can probably get around the limitations of the template but you have to be a good HTML/Javascript/PHP coder in addition to understanding the ins and outs of the interface, and remembering where you put all the custom bits and pieces. The online editing aspect adds an annoying bit of lag and unreliability to the process that I never experience working locally.  I also feel that for some things, you lose the safety net of trial-and-error experimenting/previewing that's so easy when you work with traditional local file management tools.

In the end, WordPress et al. are really just another tool, like a simple text editor/FTP program, or Dreamweaver.  I think the biggest difference is that online tools (where we're being herded) wrest the control that comes from local pay-once ownership and turn it into dependence on the service.  Once you're there, what's free today may impose advertising and data mining tomorrow, or periodic payment for "upgraded" features.  What worked today may be broken by a mandatory update. Multiply that by the number of third-party add-ons you install, many of whose authors work constantly to enhance/patch their offerings with updates.

Hackers, spammers, and monkey-wrenchers love big, fat, centralized targets.

 


Original Text from 2007

This is my latest attempt (take 8?) to include some interactivity at the website. It's intended to be a fusion of the old "Remarks/I Sez" section and the "Guestbook/You Sez" section. Unfortunately, the previous Simple Message Forum blew up, but before it did, I'd realized that it wasn't going to work: There are already so many well-established message boards out there.

This time, I'm fashioning it as a genuine blog and you can comment on postings if you'd like. The "Remarks" category is for my general blog-like ramblings. The "Project Comments" category is linked to specific project articles so that you can comment on those articles.

As is customary, you have to be a registered subscriber to participate (it's to discourage spam postings). From time to time, I may post material that can only be accessed by registered subscribers. Folks who post interesting and useful comments may have special access to uhhh... special things. Yes, the point of this manipulative incentive is to encourage use of the interactivity that this web gizmo provides, and I believe that folks who play the game should be rewarded.  (FWIW: Access levels are assigned manually.)

I apologize to those who wasted their time registering for the previous SMF forum- I had no idea that it was such a fragile piece-of-shit. So far, this WordPress software seems to be much more robust, considering the reckless way I've been probing its innards... I'm crossing my fingers because I'm getting really tired of setting up these things!

(Yah, I just had to include the picture of Nadine Jansen again, but this time I couldn't think of a clever way to tie the image to the commentary...

Hey, howzabout this:

"Robust Software."

)

-10/23/07, 12/02/07


Coming Soon... errrr... Someday! Maybe? -11/11/15

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 1:33 pm

N-Scale? Model Railroading?
I've been working on a new sub-index with a bunch of wordy and nerdy articles that I started writing in 2014. I haven't uploaded a single one yet. Need pictures to make them interesting for people who hate to read (like me).

Frankly, I'm a little intimidated since there are so many folks out there with fantastic layouts and who know so much more about every aspect of the hobby than I do. I think it's arrogant for me to post a bunch of articles about a hobby that I'm a relative newbie to, as if I were some kind of expert. Not saying that would stop me though! The hobby is interesting and I feel compelled to blabber on about my experiences and things I've learned. Hopefully my newbie insights will be helpful to someone.


Sitemeter Has Gone Over To The Dark Side - 11/11/15

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 11:51 am

Apparently, quite a while ago.

I just spent longer than I wanted removing the Sitemeter code from the 500+ HTML pages at jbwid.com. I'd used them for over fifteen years, and if I was really bored, I'd look at the statistics to see what was most visited. I didn't mind hosting their graphic at the bottom of the pages for the privilege.

Heck, I didn't even need their service because I have more detailed Stats packages included with my webhosting account. Sheesh! It was one of those things that I'd set up a long time ago, and it got propagated to each new page I created. Not a big deal, as long as they weren't Evil.

Unlike me, they do it for the money. As we all know, Money is the Root of All Evil. I suspect that the proliferation of ad-blocker browser add-ons drove them bonkers. (Heck, I don't even install Adobe Flash anymore.) On the control panel side, their advertisement pushing got more and more pushy and obnoxious, so I finally said, "fuck 'em".

I had their code embedded in nearly every single page of my site; it was a really old version of their Javascript code (before they even knew about The Dark Side), and I never noticed any advertising when I checked my website from other locations. Nevertheless (and I may be unnecessarily paranoid), I felt that gave them a hook into all those pages, and they controlled the code at the other end of the line.

No more. Bottom line: This is my website and until it's hacked or WordPress goes evil... I decide what I want to shill.

Sorry, I don't give out free cookies!

FWIW: If you have saved articles to your hard drive before I removed the Sitemeter code, the code is still there, busy phoning home from your hard drive whenever you browse those files. Yes... the Internet is a creepy place!


Another Sorry Update - 04/28/08

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 11:41 am

Maybe it's the change in seasons, or from having been dragged into Home-Improvement Mode... but I haven't been thinking much about toys, sculpting, and Dremeling lately. I'd thought that receiving the long-awaited Hot Toys Predalien and AVP:R Predator might rekindle something, but nope. They're keen-o and they're very well done, but I'm just not in that mode now.

Sheesh. I cleaned up and reorganized the work area (the "Cubbyhole of Death") and even got a new-fangled battery-powered mini Dremel... and the unfinished dollmaking projects still sit there. It's my natural modal ebb & flow, and it does no good to try to force it. My current mood is to do other things; get outside more, go bike-riding... and the honeydoo list. In the right frame of mind, such projects are actually kind of fun, and the results are gratifying. It astonishes me to think that I can spend weeks agonizing over a doll project, but it only takes a fraction of that to install a vent fan, paint a wall, or put up a fence. There's something seriously decadent about the amount of energy (and money) I've devoted to the dollmaking/collecting hobby, while neglecting the practical stuff! Uh... Like guitar playing? Yeah, I've been doing some of that, too.

Playing guitar and its gear-tinkering aspect shares similarities to the dollmaking hobby; they're equally impractical but amusing endeavors for those of us who don't rely on them for income, and both have collecting/customizing appeal. For me, it's nearly impossible to justify buying any more guitars & amps: No room & no need. Damn. (and I was soooo tempted to get the Stratocaster VG just for its gizmotronic novelty factor, and I really like the way Rickenbackers look.)

So I've been settling for projects, like installing a battery box in Frankenstrat #5 so I don't have to take off the jackplate to replace the battery. I replaced the Lace Sensors in my Hexpander Strat with Fender's Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups (it's a good thing that I'd documented that guitar's innards online, because I'd forgotten what all the switches did!). They're much quieter than the older red/blue/silver Lace sensors. Eventually, maybe, I'll scallop the neck of my newest Strat; that would be cheaper than getting a Yngwie Malmsteen Strat that I don't have room for. I was tempted to procure Fender's S1 switch so that I could play around with it, but realized that it wouldn't work any better or do anything more than a multi-pole toggle or rotary switch. Besides, it's not a good idea to install exotic parts that nobody but Fender stocks.

I said that it was nearly impossible to justify buying any more guitars & amps, but I didn't say gadgets! Roland's VG-99 is the ultimate guitar toy, and it's easier to rationalize the spending if you've already got a guitar with a 13-pin output (or two). It's smaller than an amp or guitar and fits on a tabletop, so space isn't a problem, and with a VG-99, I don't need to get a Strat VG! (it's never really about "need", anyway.)

This is an absolutely amazing and fun gizmo. Out of the box, it models instruments (electric/acoustic/12-string/analog synth), fx, and amps very convincingly. Bill Ruppert's samples indicate what could be done... in theory, if you were a god-like studio musician. For the rest of us, it's an excellent noodling machine and noisemaker.

Unlike a MIDI interface synthesizer, there's absolutely no tracking latency. However, it's not a MIDI synthesizer, so there are sounds that it doesn't naturally make (like realistic organ, piano, horns, pipes, etc.) Since I'm not a Bill Ruppert and can't make it sound like those things, I ran it in parallel with my GR-33 synthesizer, which involved installing an additional GK-3 pickup on my Hexpander Strat. (Roland cleverly designed the VG-99 without subsonic filters at the front end so that their magnetic hex pickup works better than everyone else's piezo pickups... which track better for MIDI- hence, the need for both.)

Anyway, the sound using both units is HUGE... as is the mound of patch cords and cables that link it all together through a cheapie Behringer 802 mixer. The computer's stereo headphone mix is awesome, but I had to get a second Cube 60 amp to hear it "live", in balanced stereo. So I guess there was room for one more amp? Sadly, this forced my old '71 Twin Reverb into retirement, or storage; it has too many sentimental ties to cut loose.

Yep, it's all pretty decadent, and it seems like even more of a guilty pleasure after reading this serious stuff about "Peak Oil".

It's hard to deny the basic logic behind it, and the implications are pretty sobering: Our civilization's mantra is Growth, but growth relies on our world's limited supply of resources that we've been burning through at an unprecedented rate. The only long-term and abundant supply of energy that doesn't suck something from the Earth comes from an external source, our sun. Although we're inclined to believe that the markets will rebound (as they've always done), and that science will come to our rescue (as it's always done), what if they don't, and what if it doesn't? The clock is ticking. The future might not be what wish it would be. Only the very privileged few will get those flying cars that they promised us in the fifties...

This stuff is depressing and no one wants to hear it, but it may make you see our daily goings-on in a different light... and see how doomed we are. There's so much waste for frivolous things, there are so many of us, and we all want cool, fun stuff and the good life. The implications for future generations and our civilization are too abstract and too far removed to motivate the mass of humanity to begin making meaningful sacrifices. "Sacrifice" doesn't sell very well; we want our share of the pie, and don't want to believe in anything that threatens it. We do want to believe that somehow, things will work out for those poor, unfortunate pie-eaters of the future.

On the plus side, it would make us a less attractive target for evil robots and alien conquerors.

-Jimbobwan

1 Comment

  1. you not doin' models,n,stuff now bud????????????your she predators were awesome

    Comment by georgieboy26 -- May 26, 2010 @ 5:18 pm


A Sorry Update - 03/03/08

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 9:50 am

There haven't been any updates in a while, so it may seem like I've dropped the "Aliensstuff" mid-sentence. That's not your imagination, because I have!  Temporarily at least.  Lots of stuff has been happening in the last few weeks, some of it fun, and some of it not so much.

On the fun side was the acquisition of a GPS -- fun for me, in a geekish way.  It's a boringly practical road tool, but I had fun doing Internet research, connecting it up to my computer and figuring out how to tweak it with 3rd party stuff and not configure it into a paperweight.  It's a marvelous piece of technology, and since we pay for the satellites, we common folks might as well take advantage of them.  I must avoid the temptation to turn it into a video file player since that doesn't mix very well with driving.

The other fun thing was discovering the joys of Dahon folding bicycles.  In some parts of the country it's still considered winter, but it was 90 degrees F in Texas not long ago.  (That's why it's not all that strange to be talking about outdoors grills in January, or bike-riding in February/March.)  I first learned of these wonders when I spied a folded-up mechanism chained to a bike rack. I'm a sucker for Transformer-like mechanisms (hence my interest in kewl things like Uzis and mean-looking guns).

Initially, I was looking at Dahon's line of larger-wheeled bikes.  I thought the small ones looked dorky and didn't believe that they were "real" bikes.  Well, the dorkiness issue was swept aside once I had the opportunity to ride one.  They are real bikes, and despite the small 20 wheels, you don't have to pedal like a monkey on a tricycle.  They're lightweight too, and easy to hump around.  And because they fold into a reasonably small package, you can keep one (or two) in your car's trunk.  For me, that's the main appeal: No bike racks, no removing the front wheel and struggling to position the rest of it in the back seat.  I carry mine around in my trunk and it takes about 30 seconds to unload and unfold. At work, I can hit the hike & bike trail that's only a couple blocks away.  On weekends, my wife & I can bike in areas that are more scenic then our neighborhood, and more distant than we'd be willing/able to bike to from home, on a whim as we're driving around.  (Damn, my butt hurts.)

The not-so-fun stuff is that we're been painting the interior and having new siding put on our house.  Exciting, huh?  There are sure a lot more fun ways to spend that kind of green, but it's the adult thing to do.  It's also pretty disruptive, with all the hammering that's been going on.  My one bit of advice is that you take their warnings about moving things away from exterior walls very seriously.  I learned the hard way that it wasn't enough to simply lay things down on shelves.  The hammer blows can conduct and propagate from the exterior to the interior shelves, launching stuff off shelves, or even dislodging shelves.  Very, very disheartening. Once the dust settles, I've got quite a few things to fix and missing parts to find.  (FWIW, the Aliens die-cast Dropship is very appropriately named.)

As for the Texas primaries, it's good to know that we actually matter at this late date. My vote was cast during early voting; Issues aside (because with so few candidates, it's nearly impossible to find one who shares all your views on the issues), I reasoned that it made sense to vote for someone who brought people together and didn't tout their reputation as a fighter.  The wheels of legislation aren't greased by drawing lines in the sand, team-spirit chest-thumping or the verbal version of knife fighting.  I doubt it will ultimately make any difference though... the polar ice caps will still melt. Giant ferns and club mosses will thrive in the expanding marshland, increasing the oxygen content of our atmosphere, which will allow cockroaches, spiders and scorpions to grow as big as SUVs.  We'll wish that we were only having to deal with those weenie SHTF-zombie critters.

-03/03/08


Aliensstuff- 02/10/08

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 4:55 pm

So... what have I been up to lately? Besides spending money, uh... spending money! With the impending recession & all, it's our patriotic duty. (Nevermind that everything has tags that read "Hecho En China".) Anyway, here are a couple pics of Aoshima's diecast 1:72 Dropship and APC from the movie "Aliens". I'm hoping that they'll inspire me to finish my plastic model kit of the Dropship that's been languishing since the last century.

Cool huh?

Obviously, I haven't been staring at that for the last month, but I have been using my Burned-Out-On-Predator time...

... to do other things.

It's only natural that I should finally get around to fooling around with the Hot Toys Aliens stuff that I'd bought & backburner'd while I was too busy making Predator venom sacs.

One of those projects started like this...

...and became the horrible nightmare that's gobbled up many hours of my life!


I was arrogant: I thought I could sculpt.

The Aliens character "Hudson" (Bill Paxton) looks so distinctive, how difficult could it be to sculpt his likeness?

For me, real difficult. I spent a day or two doing the Cernit (polyclay) sculpt, nearly going blind because of the translucency. I then transferred it to putty and tried to refine the details and make it look more like him. I tried and tried, and it veered further and further away. So I tried and tried again, and the same thing happened. I'm talking about entire weekend mornings of wasted time! I did interim paint jobs to help me. Still, there was nothing about it that gave me even that brief flash of recognition that lets me know that I'm on track. I got to the point where I was randomly modifying things just to see if it would give me that brief flash of recognition. For a while there, I had Keifer Sutherland nailed! I got so sick of it that I was on the verge of hurling it against the wall. Logically, hurling shit doesn't really accomplish anything- you've got to put on your happy idiot face and soldier on...

Soooo... This is this morning's do-over. After the latest quickie paint job, I finally caught that glimpse of recognition. Unfortunately, I believe that his eyes are too high and that's not an easy fix. I'm sooooo frickin' sick of this damned thing that I believe it's time to scream "uncle" and move along.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I know you're dying to hear my theories about why it's been such a bitch:

Firstly (and most importantly), I'm not a top-shelf sculptor. (DOH!) Those guys probably don't resort to randomly adding blobs of putty, hoping it will fix something. Secondly, although the movie has lots of scenes with Hudson, in almost all of those scenes he's doing something wildly animated with his face. That makes it hard to extrapolate a neutral expression. I spent a lot of time flipping through screen caps, messing with his cheeks, his nose, his mouth, adding creases... then regretting the changes because they didn't fit the expression. I began to believe that the only distinctive thing about him was his receding hairline, but that wasn't going to help me if he was going to be wearing a helmet!

(You know... maybe that's why I prefer making original characters?)

-02/10/08

 


 

Weathered BDUs This tip comes from the forum at Sideshowcollector.com: The easiest and quickest way to accurize the overall appearance of Hot Toys' Colonial Marines is to dump their BDUs in a thinned mix of "dirty" acrylic paint. Any dirty color mix will tone down the brightness of the strange camo coloring (right); I used a dark green and black in a mason jar full of water. Note that this will kill the eBay resale value, if you care about that. (In 5 years, it probably won't matter.)

Hicks There's a headsculpt of Hicks being offered (for a limited time) at Sideshowcollector.com's forum in the "Commerce" section. This is no ordinary headsculpt either- it's a dead-on, can't-be-improved-upon likeness by the supremely talented Les Walker (appropriately nicknamed "Figmasterles"). If you want your Hicks figure to resemble Michael Biehn of the Aliens movie, there's no better investment you could make... and yes, I'm so tempted!

It's a temptation that's hard to resist, but I've decided that I must, and risk regretting it later. Why? If I bought the ultimate sculpt, I'd have no motivation to sculpt my own. After my fiasco with the Hudson sculpt, it's clear that I need the practice. Ultimately, while I do enjoy the hobby as a collector/spender (and I do a lot of that!), making my own stuff gives me a more intense and longer-lasting gratification.

I tried Sculpey III this time. It's an opaque polymer clay that doesn't make me feel like I'm going blind, unlike Cernit (which, if I recall correctly, is similar to Super Sculpey). Its sculpting characteristics are also different; instead of feeling rubbery, it sculpts more like plasticene (non-hardening oil-based clay). This makes it very easy to blend add-on clay without using solvents. That's because it's very soft, which can be both a good and a bad thing. The softness makes it easy to knead, rough shape, and smudge clay around. It also means that unless you've got a very light touch, you're going to leave a lot of tool marks and fingerprints. Right now, I'd have to say I like this stuff a lot better than Cernit as a sculpting medium. Bear in mind that I haven't baked it yet- it may not be as sturdy and durable as other baked polyclays, but that's not an issue for me. I'm using this to make a mold for a putty mask which I'll build onto a Hot Toys rubber head.

(Sculpt time: 1 day, a vague resemblance) The sculpting seems to be easier this time, mainly because I've got a reference shot of Les Walker's sculpt! The movie's vidcaps are as helpful as they usually are- out of focus, bad lighting, changing angles, odd expressions- so it's nice to have one good reference. I feel a little like I'm cheating, but it is sculpting and not recasting. Sculpting a likeness from photos involves translating light and shadow information into 3 dimensions; the better the photos are, the easier it is. I've got a single off-angle shot, but ideally you'd have several shots from different angles under good lighting. The single shot is like a handicap (and makes me feel better about copying a sculpture), since I have to use the vidcaps to fill in the missing info.

I should mention an important "gotcha" that gets me every frickin' time: Good lighting is equally important on the sculpting side. My work area has a primary light that's behind and to the left. Therefore, when I transcribe light and shadows, I get a skewed view of what I'm sculpting. I usually notice this when I take a break and hold the work under the light... and notice the asymmetries.

-02/16/08

1 Comment

  1. I have been a big fan of your work particularly the Medieval/Fantasy figures. I am new to customizing and have taken some of your tips in my figures. I do not know how to post images in this site but I have posted my work on Fantasynet (mostly the Conan related figures under Carlos Bothwell). I really apreciate your work and hope to see more of it in the future especially medieval anf fantasy themes. You have inspired a lot of customizers.

    Comment by carlos1 -- March 2, 2008 @ 12:24 pm


Appliance Shopping - 01/16/08

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 5:35 pm

Since I've talked about fish, cats, & R/C helicopters before, I figure kitchen appliances are fair game (hey, this is a "blog", after all) ...especially since I've spent the last two weekends immersed in kitchen appliance shopping because SWMBO got the whim (I was willing to live with a gas range that eventually ignited, if you waited long enough). What fun! The quest for a gas range expanded into a quest for a toaster oven, and then a quest for a microwave. Three cooking appliances in one swell foop. Fortunately, my wife is also SWFPPS ("She Who Funds Purchases of Practical Stuff"), so I can't really complain (Me: "Jeez! That convection oven cost almost as much as a Hot Toys Predator doll on eBay!!!").

The interesting & frustrating part of this was doing the research. I'd expected the Internet to be a great source for the real dirt on which models to check out and which to avoid. I didn't want to pay Consumer Reports for the info; besides, you can't really see what they've got on their website without subscribing. Long story made short: I wish we'd subscribed early on. For this quest, the Internet is a sea of identical bland sales copy, straight from the manufacturer's marketing division. Yes, it's good to know the technical specs, but I wanted some real opinions, discussions, and advice. There's a little bit out there, but not enough to make you feel like you can select based on more than basic specs, price, and looks.

There are probably good reasons for this. Manufacturers put out bunches of different models, and they're constantly bringing out new ones (or so it seems), some of which are sold only through specific vendors. Chances are that if you do find solid recommendations for a model, it's for an old model that's been discontinued. Appliances aren't the kind of thing that people get fanatical about, like say... Doctor Who, or Aliens. You don't find Usenet groups or websites devoted to gossip about kitchen appliances. Generally, people don't submit reviews to vendor websites unless they're really pissed, or are shills.

So off we went, armed with scant information about a few prospects... As I've learned from personal experience, a manufacturer's reputation means diddley these days, and doesn't protect you from being the unfortunate purchaser of a turkey that dies before its time (uhhhh... Sony?). We ordered a Maytag range based on the few reviews we could find, and it seems to boil water just fine. The control panel has a bunch of extra stuff on it that we're unlikely to use because you have to consult the manual (unless you remember how to use it). I've verified that convection fan does spin, but it didn't seem to make much difference in how fast our peach turnovers cooked or how good they tasted. We hate the porcelain-coated burner grates.

I miss our old cheapie builder's special oven. I could throw tortillas, hot dogs, and Hatch peppers onto it's old grungy burner grates and not worry about staining or discoloring. I miss cooking by instinct, where it was just the oven knob and my powers of observation. Our cat misses the top's flat napping area. I suppose I'll get used to it- that is, if we can ever get over our neurotic desire to keep it looking new and clean.

[Note: We didn't.  The skinny taupe grates started getting black marks from pots sitting on top of them, so we returned it and got a GE with manly matte black grates.  The GE also has a recessed area in the back, which allows it to install flush against the wall, whereas the Maytag didn't (the electrical and gas hookup have to go somewhere, don't they? Duh.).]

The toaster oven quest was a lot easier since our old Black & Decker was such an awful piece of junk. We were seduced by the fact that it could be mounted undercabinet, but its anemic 3 heating elements were positioned so that it was incapable of cooking anything evenly. Perhaps we overcompensated, but our new Krups box (with good Internet reviews) is twice as big, has 6 quartz elements mounted on the top and bottom, with a convection fan. It generates some serious heat.

The microwave was the toughest purchase. We initially searched for a space-saving above-the-range microwave/vent hood so we could reclaim counter space. We were almost sold on the Maytag model that matched our range... except for the few user reviews we were able to find, complaining about the thing dying within a month or two; the hassle and foot-dragging of warranty repair; and the replacement (when finally delivered) doing the same thing. We broadened our search to include different manufacturers and models and heard the same kind of thing, more or less. In this case, we were far more sensitive to reviews mentioning longevity because the thing required installation. If it died within two years, I'd be mighty pissed. It doesn't help that mounting brackets are not standardized. If you replaced it with a different model, chances are that you'd have to drill new holes to put up new mounting hardware. We weren't willing to repeatedly patch drywall and repeatedly drill holes into the stud. After wasting lots of time on that, we came to the realization that a countertop unit made much more sense. You get more bang for the buck with a countertop model, and it really doesn't "lose" countertop space. The countertop space is transferred to the top of the microwave. The unusable countertop space is actually the area in front of the microwave door. Therefore, it made sense to get a microwave that was fairly deep and wide (to transfer as much counterspace as possible to the top), but not very tall (to maximize the space above the microwave, under the cupboards). We came up with a 1.6 cu ft. 1250 watt Panasonic unit that fit the bill and had neato gimmicks like "Inverter" technology, sensor cooking, and a knob for dialing in settings. If it dies, we haul it off and plug in the old one. No big deal.

We haven't actually used it yet because it was an online order that's supposed to be delivered today. We tried to buy locally, but after spending an hour picking it out at the store, none were in stock (grrrr...). As we found out during our expedition the next day, no one had it locally (grrrrr...), or any alternates that fit the bill (grrrrr...)

So... after all that, the main two meals we've cooked since this weekend have been ribeyes and fajitas. Both of these were cooked on the outdoors grill, which has a seriously deteriorating grate (beware of porcelain-coated grating!), and is in worse shape than anything we've replaced. I suspect that the upcoming weekend will be similar to the last two, but at least I don't need to do any research: Outdoors grills are (usually) simple beasts. It's much more fun to cook outdoors using simple controls and instinct; it also helps keep the new & shiny high-tech indoors stuff clean.

PICO DE GALLO RECIPE
(adapted from what I remember of Los Tres Bobo's recipe)

Tomatoes
Onions
Serrano Peppers
Cilantro
Garlic/Garlic powder
Olive Oil
Malt Vinegar
Seasoning Salt/MSG

Santoku knife works great.

Slice & dice tomatoes; thinly slice & chop onion (no huge pieces); thinly slice & chop Serranos & Cilantro (even finer than onions), ditto for garlic (even finer than Serranos & Cilantro, or/and use garlic powder).

Let your tastebuds guide the ratios; the heat of peppers varies and preferences differ. I like it just below the point where it scorches my tastebuds, so they can recover before the next bite. (However, a Jalapeno that gives you hiccups and makes you sweat is worth waiting through the recovery time.)

-01/16/08

GRILL QUEST
Grill Quest turned out to be a much bigger deal than I'd imagined! Once I started doing my homework I realized it's complicated and that these suckers can be really expensive, with prices ranging from less than a hundred bucks, up to several grand.

The reason for this can be pretty obvious: For several grand you get a stainless steel aircraft carrier. At the lower and mid range, it's not so obvious. The hundred buck models can look similar to those that cost about $500. The difference is quality, manifested in the materials, construction, and the manufacturer's reputation. These mainly have an impact on the grill's longevity.

What I learned: Non-magnetic 300-series stainless steel is expensive but stands up to the elements better than 400-series stainless. Enameled steel has the shortest life and is what's found on those $99 specials. This applies to the burners and grates too. Good stainless grates and burners last longest with less maintenance; porcelainized steel/cast iron lasts as long as the coating maintains its integrity (and goes south quickly once it's breached), and cast iron produces the best searing but needs seasoning and a lot of maintenance because it's born to rust. Porcelainized metals are widely used in mid-ranged grills since they're a lower-cost compromise between performance, durability, and ease of maintenance. Just be careful and don't chip through the porcelain coating because the metal will rust under the coating, expand, and further crack the porcelain.

Our first gas grill was the Weber Q: It's a great little grill that requires almost zero maintenance. I've abused ours for years, and after the deteriorating grating surface started fusing with the steaks, I realized that it was time to get a new grate. At first I was pissed because I'd brushed and scraped off the obvious rust and flakes, but more kept appearing in layers- it's that damned porcelainized cast iron! In retrospect, I now realize that the grate and the burner tube are worked the hardest, so they're expected periodic replacements. After cleaning the grill and replacing the grate, it's like a virgin again (a soiled virgin, that is). The downside of the Weber Q is that it's underpowered, and with its single burner, indirect heat cooking isn't possible. I've dealt with the underpowered aspect by preheating for about 20 minutes; this gets the grate surface hot enough to sear meat. I mainly cook full-blast with the top down.

We have a small patio area so I wanted to replace/supplement our Weber Q with a a fairly compact gas grill, preferably with stainless steel grates and burners. A 3-burner model fit the bill and provided a degree of versatility for doing indirect heat cooking. Initially, I looked at the Weber models- the bottom end Spirit line, and then the Genesis line. These have great reviews, but after seeing them in person, I decided that they were too big: The controls were mounted on the right work surface, and the Genesis' left work surface isn't detachable or foldable.

We ended up with Barbeque Galore's low-end 3-burner Capt'n Cook model, mainly because of its foldable work surfaces, but also because we could upgrade the grill and burners to stainless steel. I liked the semi-modular approach; that you could upgrade parts from other models in their line. The more stainless steel trim you add, the higher the price goes. I've read that you can cook with the hood open on this grill; in fact, they warn you not to cook with the cover down or preheat for too long. The thermometer doesn't go up to 700 so I followed their instructions (5 minute preheat, no higher than 475F?), and erred on the side of caution. My first attempts were disappointing. I believe that once the grill gets dirty and I start ignoring their directions, it'll put out some tasty, grill-flavored meat. The problem is that there's a limit to how much testing you can do with a new grill: We already have enough leftovers to last through the week.

With the taste of disappointment still fresh, I wasn't ready to let the unresolved question go unresolved. A trip to Academy Surplus/Sports produced a new grilling toy: the Ultra Sear, a cheap knock-off of Solaire's portable infrared grill. It looks and feels solid enough, although a magnet proved that the stainless steel is the inferior 400-series stuff. Nevertheless, it did the trick. After a quick 3-minute preheat and 1 minute on each side, I was treated to a sweet grill-flavored ribeye snack, still mooing in the center. If you prefer your meat somewhat cooked in the center, you can turn down the heat, but I'm not sure how effective that is (and not likely to find out).

-01/23/08


FAK-Q, Predatorialized - 01/10/08

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 6:39 pm

More Predator stuff. Well, whaddja expect? This may seem like a minor bit o' bit-kashing, but there's more here than meets the eye. It's hard to tell, but the leggings and arm coverings are completely new. If you've seen my 1998 FAK-Q project, you had to be wondering, "What happens to latex rubber castings after 10 years?" In this case, the answer is that they get brittle and crack if you squeeze or poke them. (That's not always true though. I have some 20+ year old samples that are in much better shape.)
These were an experiment: I mixed acrylic paint into the latex thinking that they might help slow the decay, since the well-preserved samples were (generally) painted. I was wrong. If you're looking for a cheap and convenient alternative to semi-rigid polyurethane, latex rubber ain't it. Fortunately, I still had the silicone molds (which are still in good shape). So this is a required maintenance update, due in part to the BLAKK2 project, my having some leftover Predator parts, and to my reading some more AvP comics.

I thought about making a Machiko Noguchi-like character from the comics (who joins a Predator clan), but I didn't want to build onto or off of the comic's story. Instead, this one stays as the Julie Strain/FAK-Q character, who, after scoring some Predator toys, becomes a hunter of hunters (flesh out the details with your own B-movie drama). That seems to fit Julie Strain to a tee, and it keeps the Predators as foes- not sympathetic friendlies to be allied with. The "Friendator" thing is okay for a change, but I don't think it should be an enduring character change on the part of the Predators. The Predators have a pretty screwed up code of honor and are a bad fit for any kind of heroic role. They do make excellent single-dimensional baddies though, and the conventions of cheesy drama sez that they should be handed their overconfident asses by an ass-kicking chick. For me, it gives backstory potential for the Battle Queen Predator, complete with visions of clawing, scratching and hair/dreadlock pulling. Go team, go.

I didn't want to make any drastic changes to the figure since I think it's a minor miracle that it resembles Julie Strain (even though the sculpting around the eyes seems flat and amateurish). Part of it is my laziness: Make as few changes as you absolutely need to. If you're using an old framework to make something completely new, you know that it's going to be a lot of work, so you're mentally prepared for it. I was adventurous enough to give her new hands to replace the funky Cotswold claws.

The main leftover part was the AvP Elder net suit that I'd purchased on eBay (You can never have too many of these if you're making Predator stuff). I'd initially considered the upgrades for the BLAKK2 doll, but the FAK-Q figure was a perfect fit size-wise, being one of my tallest female figures- no cutting necessary. Most of the other parts were simple castings of Hot Toys stuff using putty in a single-sided mold. I rigged the forearm coverings and weapons with magnets & steel so they could be switched out easily. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to cast the blades since those are pretty thin, but they came out okay and seem reasonably durable. I would have preferred to use factory parts if they'd been available because they're better quality. But buying by-the-piece can get expensive with the typical markup & shipping, assuming you can even find them. I don't know why I bought a spare Elder Predator mask, but I had one so she gets to wear it occasionally. I think she looks better without it. In fact, looking at the original pictures and the evolution of her costuming, I think that it looked better without all the added junk. However, the gear is a big part of the story, so it's a big part of the fun.

Heavy Metal has put the entire FAKK2 comic online. (WARNING: It's raunchy with lots of sex and violence). It's much better than the animation, and Simon Bisley's artwork is stunning. I'd rather be making stuff for that future world, but it's hard to do dolls with costuming that skimpy!

01/10/08

01/13/08

1 Comment

  1. She does look a lot like Julie Strain, those knee high's are sexy too.

    Comment by Dark Blade Clan -- March 24, 2008 @ 4:26 am


Preview/Comments: Prom Queen Predator - 12/02/07

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 11:01 am

(Battle Queen Predator Project Article)

Thanks for playing, y'all. As a special thanks for those who have registered/left comments, you can be the first to see what I'm working on: Hey, it's another female Predator!

(The one on the left) Isn't she cute? According to the in-progress article, this is probably going to be titled "Battle Queen Predator" so I can explain away a taller figure with a different skull configuration. The "battle" part is to justify the armour that I haven't made yet . The whole thing should be done in a week or two, depending on how much time I can find to work on it, and how hard it gets- the armour is going to be one of those design-as-you-go things since I have no idea at this moment.

-12/02/07

-------------

This is moving along faster than expected... because I'm rushing! (I wanna have a life again, and I'm sure that my wife & cats agree.) Under those conditions, any kind of "inspired" costume design is not likely; mostly, I'm filling out a standard Predator design template with sculpted costume parts. With this focus on parts, it's difficult to see the big picture, so I've had doubts about the direction it's going- it looks too much like Hooters Predator, with nothing to support the title of "Queen"! I thought that I had enough of a plan of action, and that things would easily fall into place: Lesson learned (again)- Always start with the broad brush strokes to see if it's where you want to go. Hopefully, I can fix it with some cheap & easy tricks, like giving her a cape and maybe painting her armour gold. There's also hope that the (yet-to-come) decorative doodads will magically fix everything.

P.S.- Notice the Lord of the Rings parts? They're "placeholders". I like the way they look, but in the spirit of true kitbashing (source parts should not be easily identifiable), I feel obligated to replace them with cruddy homemade versions... sheesh!

-12/06/07
-------------

Progress has slowed since I'm adding little details, evaluating the overall look, and trying to decide if it's what I like. Overall, I'm a little dismayed that the line between this and a Lord of the Rings-style costume is pretty thin. The AVP Predator design took it in this direction with the pervasive plate armour motif, and I seem to have riffed on that. It's just one more thing to think about.

I recreated and simplified the LOTR armour that I was using on the thighs and forearms (it's really just a generic pattern), but have moved the LOTR pieces to the shoulders! I thought they made her look less slope-shouldered with the cape. This means that I'll probably recreate and simplify it again, unless I can come up with a more inspired design. These also offer the opportunity to mount a shoulder cannon- It dawned on me that the reason the Elder Predator doesn't have a shoulder cannon is because the cape gets in the way... duh!

(Comparing the last two pics, I think that the beltless look is much more intriguing.)

-12/09/07

-------------

I appreciate all the feedback, folks. It's very helpful to have fresh eyes looking at and commenting on this stuff, and feedback keeps this from being a totally thankless job. Sorry for forcing the issue with the registration, but it's worked like it was supposed to.

The preview/incremental record has been helpful for me too, since I don't think I would have noticed the belt thing without it. By "the belt", I'm talking about the upper thong-like straps (vs. the lower hip-hugger bikini style). This update shows my solution after hours of trial & error & head scratching- there's still a lower belt, but the tassets (thigh armour) are fastened to it higher, like they were in the earlier update (minus the upper belt). I don't have a problem with parts "floating in the fishnet" (I think it's an unusual look, like those Las Vegas showgirl outfits); however, in this case, the parts needed to be drawn closer and more firmly to the body than they could when attached to the fishnet. I need avoid the temptation to clutter the area with a bunch of equipment and knick-knack belts.

I agree with the comment about "ornate armour"... I'd like to, and I just wish it were easier to do! I need to be more patient and work in smaller sized-bites... and steal some really good inspiration.

The scepter/staff/weapon was a good idea. I'd been going back and forth about the idea: At first, I thought that a Queen wouldn't want to carry around stuff... but she looks more like a warrior now, and needed to have a stick-like thing in her hands. I finally had to concede that I can't make one of those snazzy telescoping jobbers, so that let me get on with it.

I'm in the process of making her optional shoulder-mounted plasma cannon. She doesn't really need one since Elder Predator doesn't have one, but it's doable as a separate assembly of outer shoulderpads, a back-mounted power source and the gun. The whole shebang is worn over the cape.

The paint is the last step, so I can put that off for a while (whew). I'm anxious to see if my last good airbrush experience was just a fluke.

Aliens... Hot Toys has that covered, so I don't need to make any. Hmmmm.... but a Hooters Alien? (ducks) So far, I've resisted temptation to show off my Alien stuff since all I did was buy it, and there are plenty of reviews already... maybe for the article pics?

(I'm having fun picking out her unique "trophies".)

-12/14/07

-------------

Okay... last photo! I've really enjoyed working on this and futzing around with the little details, but the writing's on the wall. I'm running out of to-do costuming things and I'll eventually have to paint her and give her a full head of dreadlocks. Gawd, I'll miss the routine and having the whole gang of Predators spread out in front of me as I work.

I believe that this is it for my '07 projects, and I haven't got an inkling of what/when I'll make next. 12/25 is fast approaching, and that means of course... AVPR hits the screen (something else happens on that day too...?). Ideally, that would trigger some new inspiration, but probably it'll just trigger new spending on the neat spin-off toys (actually, that's already begun). I believe I've ridden this Predator thing as far as I can take it. (unless I make a hermaphrodite Predator?)

Once again, thanks for participating. The completed (painted) doll will appear in the general admission website article, with new pics zooming in on some of the details (You probably noticed her cool Luke Skywalker light sabre trophy, right?), along with the usual rambling, snooze inducing commentary. When it's posted, I caution you to remove any sharp objects (like note stickers) from your computer area as I will not accept responsibility for any injuries caused by sudden onset of sleep.

-12/16/07


POSTMORTEM

I recently saw Aliens versus Predator: Requiem and read some of the Dark Horse comic books, and I've figured out why it's so hard to make new movies and stories about these guys, that are any good. This has relevance for my dollmaking thing, since I like for there to be some kind of story potential behind the stuff that I make. The backstory helps spur ideas for new directions and add ons.

Sadly, the problem lies with the creatures: They're essentially one-dimensional killing machines who don't have personalities. They're designed to look kewl, shock, and present some interesting alien concepts shrouded in enough mystery to make you speculate- that's enough to cover a few good movies. Beyond that novelty factor, there's very little about the creatures that we can relate to in an emotional sense. Good stories are about things that we can relate to: Human emotions and motivations. You have to care about what's happening to the characters.

In Alien, the creature isn't evil- it's a relentless killing machine following its instincts. Outside of the novelty of the creature and its lifecycle, it's a survival story about the humans. The real "evil" is the company and its hardware manifestations; the android Ash, and the hidden directives of Mother/the Nostromo. They're the source of the ultimate betrayal for the human crew.

In Aliens, that theme returns with a further fleshing out of the world and the addition of a new creature: The Alien Queen. The Queen has been given some human qualities that we can relate to: She's protective of her brood, she gets pissed, and she wants payback. The final fight scene is especially gratifying because of that emotional reference point.

In Predator, we're treated to another survival story about humans. After the mystery of the Predator is slowly unshrouded, we learn that he does share some human traits- he's a proud, confident hunter with a code of honor. It's a contest between the outmatched but resourceful human and a superior alien opponent.

Predator 2 follows the same basic equation in a different setting, but with the addition of the secretive governmental agency. Detective Harrigan has a more varied set of obstacles to deal with, but ultimately, it's another one-on-one contest with a superior alien opponent. This movie didn't expand the Predator's repertoire of human emotions much, but it did introduce their notion of respect for their fallen warriors and those who play the game well.

In all these movies, it's the humans, their emotions and situations that carry the story. The creatures are extremely limited in their ability to show any of that because they don't speak. That's their characterization, and it would be a travesty if they did. However, it limits their show of intelligence to displays of tactics, and occasional displays of behavior that we humans can relate to. It makes it difficult for them to show any complicated social behavior, or intricate machiavellian planning. Consequently, the stories really can't be about them except in a superficial way... and so they return in movies with new looks, new toys, and maybe an expanded view of their world.

Basically, we've seen all their shocking and novel ways of killing before, so there's really no way of making chestbursting or impaling seem shocking or fresh. Aliens may get variations on their lifecycles, and Predators may get new ways to slash/shatter/blast/dissolve, but they lack the important ingredient to make you feel sorry when they get killed, or gleeful when they get what they deserve.

Subsequent attempts to rectify this have largely failed. Alien 3 didn't even try. I consider it to be a plodding, artsy snoozefest that was mainly an attempt to keep the franchise ball rolling. Alien Resurrection was too glib and shiny with disposable characters. Although the Alien Newborn looked dorky, his demise almost made you feel sorry for him... and therefore, that short scene evoked more emotion than the entire 2 hours of Alien 3.

I'm probably one of the few who actually liked "Aliens versus Predator". It had a plot, a unique environment, some speculative backstory, and attempted to expand the characterization of the Predator and Alien with emotional motivations that we can relate to. I welcomed the introduction of the heavier, more armoured Predator because it introduced variety to what we'd already seen and knew. The PG13 rating seems to be a common complaint about this movie; it didn't bother me since the MPAA's line between that and "R" is pretty hazy (how many times you say "fuck", how it's said, the amount of gratuitous bloodshed, and exposed female boobage). In AvP, there's enough graphic gore for me (impaling, Alien head being sliced off, net cutting into skin, spear through Queen's head), and I don't need to see graphic and gory chestbursting over and over to feel gratified. Just like with sex- the suggestion of it through clothing can be more interesting than in-your-face nekkid boobs.

Alien versus Predator: Requiem is pretty much a fan's movie, and not a very good one at that. There's more gore. The environment is mundane, the fight scenes are too dark and jumpy to appreciate, the characters are disposable, and there's really no plot or buildup. The final fight scene isn't very impressive either, just some routine impalings. The only things of interest are the new creature designs, some new behaviors, and a glimpse of their homeworld and inside their spaceship. There's nothing in this movie to care about, except that its poor box office showing will probably deter future attempts.

Unfortunately, the limits of the characterizations makes it really difficult to expand the concepts. The comics take it the furthest (which ended up in AvP), and even then, the stories are usually about the humans. In some stories, the Predators are given a bit more verbosity, but it's very limited and it seems somewhat cringe-worthy. The Aliens and Predators are brought in for the obligatory fighting/killing scenes, but that's usually incidental to the real plots.

Therein lies the problem. Since I've "finished" Battle Queen Predator, I've tried to look deeper into their world to imagine interactions and stories which would lead to other projects. It's hard enough to imagine them making their own technology, much less do anything that other highly developed sentient lifeform might do. Basically, they're neat designs and neat motifs that you can turn into dolls and statues. Beyond that, it's easy to see why AvP:R turned out the way it did.

-01/01/08

(new toys to show off...)

8 Comments

  1. The fellow on the right looks a bit distracted (can't quite see where his eyes are aimed...).

    I like the fact that you're keeping the faces so alien...I mean, not that you really have a choice, but, you've expressed your chagrin at how ugly these guys'n'gals are, yet you keep at 'em. I will say, I thought Hooters Predator (Predatrix?) has very pretty eyes...

    Comment by Andrea -- December 5, 2007 @ 10:04 pm

  2. A beautiful creature!

    I think that the smooth textured forehead gives her a very attractive and young look (an amazing sculpt work!) I dig the red eyes.

    Beltless, yes.

    Waiting for more...

    Comment by santorrostro -- December 9, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  3. It's nice to be able to comment as you work on a project. The face is EXCELLENT. I especially like the flesh tone- it's almost a bone color. I know you'll have to contrast it up with darker tones but I hope you keep the undertone the way it is.

    Oh- and beltless is definitely better.

    And regarding the queen thing- nothing says regal like a HUGE Scepter that doubles as a weapon.

    And any thoughts on when you're going to do an alien for all these predators to hunt? What if an alien impregnated a Hooters girl?

    -Chris

    Comment by christ -- December 9, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

  4. I think the belt gives the codpiece(?) a reason to be there. Otherwise it looks like it's just floating on the fishnet.

    If her armor was more ornate, she'd look a bit more 'queenly'. What about making her skin mottled like the others?

    She's a great figure!

    Comment by WolfMoon -- December 10, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  5. Your articles have been such a pleasure to read through. I'm just amazed at the quality of your Battle Queen and Hooters predator.
    What can I do to convince you to make a female predator (hot toys style) for me?
    Unless you are an artist that doesn't mind selling his work.
    Sorry for being so forward but I have no skills in the area needed for custom paint, sculpting and casting.
    beautifull work Jimbo

    Jared

    Comment by Dark Blade Clan -- March 24, 2008 @ 4:05 am

  6. Thanks for the comments & compliments, Jared.

    Well, heck... just tell me where to ship her! (Sorry- kidding.)

    I don't consider myself an artist. If I did, I'd be making stuff to sell and probably wearing a funny-looking beret. Instead, I'm just a highly-motivated collector-type: If I could buy the stuff I wanted, I wouldn't spend weeks making it! The customizing/figure-doll making thing is just the result of wanting stuff that the manufacturers weren't making. I gave them plenty of time to make a Nadine Jansen doll.

    Another example is the 1/6th scale Alien Queen. I thought about making one about 10 years ago, but didn't have the guts to tackle the job. Now there's a rumor floating around that Hot Toys may do it... but when? It it really going to happen? I hope so! If they don't, I may someday work up the motivation to try... I can guarantee that it wouldn't be nearly as good as what Hot Toys could produce, but it would fulfill that dreaded "collectoritis" in some way. Then, if they made one I'd probably regret the time & effort I'd spent, and mothball mine- but quickly get over it and be happy with the fulfillment of a holy grail stuff-quest. (To this day, I'm still shamed by my Kubelwagen project- but so glad that Dragon made one.)

    The point of this is that if you want something that you can't buy, the best place to look to make it happen is in the mirror (whew, that sounds corny!). I really don't have a special, natural talent with this- I made plastic models as a kid, and did a crappy job with lots of them. I guess the single uncommon trait that I do have is my stubborn persistence, and willingness to throw ridiculous amounts of time into making stuff that I want (which is why I don't have a business angle on this!). The journey can be an end in itself: I've learned technical stuff along the way, and I'd like to believe that my "critical eye" has improved, but there's always a balance between effort expended and my desire for a thing- I work on stuff until I'm really tired of it and willing to call it "good 'nuff".

    That's really no different from someone who's just starting out. While the results of inexperience might not get high marks from an outside jury, that's really not the point- it's something to satisfy you, and if the results aren't what you want, keep at it.

    [This rambling commentary isn't directed at you, Jared... It follows from my recent experience paying folks big $$$ to install siding, and realizing that even I- a fairly inexperienced handyman -can do a much better job on certain things than an experienced professional. That's because I care and am willing to spend as much time as it takes for me to be satisfied with the job done.]

    -Jimbobwan, 03/24/08

    Comment by Jimbobwan -- March 24, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  7. Predators are an obsestion of mine- the original film got me back into model/figure building! I settled for making pred.2, probably the most difficult one (appart from a scratch build) i decided to scratch build his accessarys, however! (the original spear was so warped as to be a waste of time correcting and was inaccurate anyway!) the mask was cast off another 1/6 kit using latex and made with 5min. Epoxy. The spear was an old dishmop, which i cut down and filed down in a lathe, cut grooves in and used cotton bud pipes for the shaftes and cut down fish hooks for the tipps. the results you can see on myspace.com and the SFM:uk.com site. It really is most satisfying to create something new to compliment a figure!

    Comment by darthvehement -- September 26, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

  8. Your Pred. Queen is a brilliant job! She looks realistic and new, fitting in perfectly with their species. (also quite sexy for a predator!) must be something to do with clevage in fishnet?!

    Comment by darthvehement -- September 26, 2010 @ 8:43 pm


Year's End Retrospective - 12/28/07

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 8:47 am

< I've just re-read my October "Impressions of the Hobby: Fall 2007" entry and with a couple months' perspective, feel that it gave a reasonably accurate picture. Yes, the revised "Perfect Body" is kind of like a cadaver pumped full of embalming fluid; it hints of BBI's and Cy Girl's glory days but the eyes suggest that the hobby is actually dead. That's misleading. Some parts aren't getting much circulation, but some parts are quite healthy. After these couple months I'm now many bucks poorer, but I've got a bunch of Hot Toys sci-fi stuff to show for it, and a bead on their offerings for 2008. As near as I can tell, the militaria segment of the hobby is doing well too; there are plenty of modern day militaria releases, and Dragon's now giving last names to their Germans where first names used to be adequate. Sideshow is still plowing through their licenses, and their Star Wars license ought to keep fans busy spending for a while. I picked up their "Return of the Jedi" Luke because I thought the headsculpt (despite its goofy expression) looked closer than Medicom's, and their Assaj Ventress doll because she looked like such a great snarly Jimbob-esque female (despite being from a really ugly, stylized cartoon). I've decided to pass on the just-released New Hope Leia & Obiwan because I'm not looking to jump start my Star Wars collecting again. If I were in the market for a new collecting niche, I'd probably check out DID's samurai series. Back in the day, that would have been a no-brainer, but there's too much other stuff that wants my money... and when you can say that, you realize that claims heralding the demise of the 1:6th scale hobby are premature.

Certain parts of the hobby do seem to be suffering a dry spell however. Hasbro's left the building for those who crave nostalgia Joe, but hints that they'll be back with Joe in a less vintage form. The femfig faction is left with table scraps, the cadaver, the S-1, and insane eBay prices now that Takara/Tomy is on a slow release diet of exotics. There are promises of fodder on the horizon and the usual higher-end fashion doll stuff is still out there, but that has a limited appeal for some involved in the male-dominated 1:6 Joe hobby: I've never been a fashion doll dude and anime-style doesn't do anything for me. Even though most of my dollmaking interest does lie in femfigs, I don't consider the state of fodder to be much of a deal-killer, but an opportunity; reworking a chunk of plastic with decent hinges into a doll with child-bearing hips is my specialty. (As long as I can scrounge a good pair of hands.)

Prices have risen. More and more factory-produced stuff costs as much as or more than custom stuff did back in the day. Inflation accounts for a lot, and the price of oil ripples through the price of everything. Granted, the factory stuff is much slicker than the home-made stuff, and memories aren't adjusted for inflation. However, that's not the whole story. Manufacturers have had to adapt to the realities of the hobby, and one of those is that this isn't a huge, mainstream hobby. Mass production lowers per-unit costs through efficiency; but if the production run is small and involves lots of steps and materials, you don't realize that efficiency. Dolls with more pieces/accessories/working detail are more work to produce, and accordingly, raises prices for the consumer. That's basically the same rule that the commercial customizers lived by. Although love of the hobby is an important prerequisite, production is about making a profit. Manufacturers have had to learn their price points the hard way. Through the years, we've seen examples of manufacturers initially offering great bang-for-the-buck; then the price rises, and then the product offerings are pared back or the manufacturer drops out. One has to assume that those manufacturers were reacting to a reality that that they hadn't foreseen.

The mass market doesn't support the kind of stuff that many adult collectors want. Kids have lots of interests nowadays that don't involve playing with dolls or action figures, but even during the best of times, it never offered the kind of high detail and quality that many adult collectors have come to expect from the non-mass market producers. Back in the day, we didn't have much choice- it was mass market or the customizers. Today, we have a new type of producer that's positioned between those choices. These producers don't offer quite the "loving care" of a hand-finished custom piece, but they bring the precision and quality of industrial production to the table. Most importantly, they "democratize" the hobby by better matching production capacity with demand. Back when customizers ruled the upper end, the customer not only needed money, but patience to endure a customizer's backlog of work, and faith that the customizer was reputable and would actually deliver more than excuses. The new breed of producers prove that more than a handful of people are willing to pay top dollar for a highly detailed product produced by a trustworthy, professional company.

As a non-commercial customizer and collector, I welcome this change. Commercial customizers had developed a bad reputation based on practices by a few individuals- whether they were morally flawed or not, it's not my place to judge- but it's clear that they were inept businessmen. I sized up the marriage of business and art early on and decided that it wasn't for me: In my opinion, it's best to leave that stuff in the hands of the experienced professionals. I also realized fairly early on that my subject matter attracted interest from younger folks with a lot of wants... but not a very realistic idea of the time-cost involved in hand-making this stuff. (Hint: I prefer to work for more than minimum wage.) The new production companies can fulfill this demand much better than customizers (and they do hire folks for less than the USA's minimum wage). As my index page sez, I do it strictly for fun and personal gratification, and I haven't regretted that decision in the 10+ years I've been doing this website.

As a collector, I'm glad that there's some really kick-ass stuff out there, and much of it is stuff that I couldn't produce. Hot Toy's Powerloader far exceeded my expectations with all its detail and articulation. Their Terminator endoskeleton is a little over-the-top with its articulated fingers, but it's something I had to have in my grubby hands to experience in person. Their Alien dolls are the best renditions so far and as a dollmaker, it's been a joy to see a producer tackle the mix of rigid and flexible materials intelligently (other than the feet). The Aliens USCM dolls are a little less impressive (surprisingly, my custom Hicks/Hudson wasn't made obsolete by their Hudson), but it's great that they tackled the full range of gear- I would have never gotten around to making Vasquez's & Drake's smart gun or the flamethrower. Likewise, I'm not about to toss my custom version of Ripley, because it kinda resembles Sigourney (unlike theirs). As a result of having 3 Ripleys (1 for the Powerloader, 1 geared up), I've now got a spare Hot Toys female body to mess with. I'm pretty impressed with it (other than the head), but I'm not sure what one can do with the rubber torso; it would be review-worthy if it were actually available as fodder. The Predators: I've been having great fun with those, as you may have guessed from my last projects. They're a great series for a collector, with lots of variety (and more to come) but it's also been a great series to riff on. Thankfully, I discovered the Hot Toys stuff during a lull in Medicom's Ultraman releases... and CCP's been pretty quiet lately. That seems like such a long time ago... This year's adult-targetted Ultraseven X TV show hasn't inspired me to acquire new monsters, but it's made me regret not learning Japanese.

Extrapolating for the whole year from a few months: For some folks (like me) it's been a good year for the 1:6 collecting hobby (but not for the pocketbook). I'm not so sure about customizing though. If there's a downside to this, it's from things being made too easy. Customizing grew from lean conditions when there wasn't much available and if you really wanted something, it often meant building it from scratch. On eBay, you frequently see something advertised as "custom", but it's really just a doll dressed with factory-made parts from another doll. It's what's called "kitbashing" nowadays, a term that has slipped considerably from it's original meaning in kit modeling. With the non-mass market producers making practically everything under the sun, there's very little incentive for the little guy to make anything. Or learn anything. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else- I used lots of prefab parts in my recent Predator projects. I could have learned how to knit fish nets, and I could have fabricated my own dreadlocks, but it was much easier and quicker just to buy them. It did the job, but I know that I'd have learned more and the project would have been more personally gratifying if I'd done the work. On the other hand, I have no desire to learn how to brew plastic, so there's a happy and reasonable balance in there somewhere. It's natural not to want to reinvent the wheel, so it's just much harder finding reasons to make stuff nowadays. (That's been a running gripe for the last 9 years, hasn't it?)

Anyway- Looking forward to the new year (and more grousing)!

-12/28/07


Alien Money Pits -11/26/07

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 5:50 pm

Start saving dem nickels and pennies boys & gals, because Hot Toys is planning to lighten your wallet again. They're previewing their newly licensed 1:6 scale Predalien, Alien, & Predator dolls from the upcoming AVP: Requiem movie at their website, and the stuff looks great. The Predalien design looks interesting and at 18 tall, it should be an imposing addition to your collection of Precious Moments(R) figurines. The movie previews look interesting, and whether the movie turns out to be a dog or not is irrelevant: I want the stuff!

Initially, I was pretty snobbish about the first AVP movie, but it grew on me and I've watched it bunches of times in the last month. What can I say? It's entertaining and there are some kewl visuals.

However... as a doll/model maker, I feel that modern computer graphics make it too easy for filmmakers to do things that look neat, but don't really work. I don't have any problems with things like the Predator cloaking effect, magic, Doctor Who's Tardis, the Terminator's liquid metal alloy, or ray gun beams. What bothers me are things like the Predator's Shuriken, which is like a frisbee with really long, sharp blades. Some Hot Toys AVP Predators comes with two versions: The compact stowed version and the version with the blades fully extended. The extended blades version looks cool, but it's kind of a pain in the ass because it takes up a lot of space. It would be great if you could retract the blades, like you can retract the telescoping spear. The problem is, it's totally bogus! If you watch the video in slow motion, it doesn't unfurl with a logical mechanical motion, it magically sprouts the blades! Why? Because there's no way that such a thing could be constructed unless the disk is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. In my opinion, if you're going to make something that appears like it has a real mechanical basis, then you should be able to model it in the real world. Otherwise, give it something like plasma energy blades.

Okay... I'll stop ranting now.

-11/26/07


Comments: Hooters Predator- 11/25/07

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 4:18 pm

(This page is for comments about this article: Hooters Predator Project Article)

Officially, the project's done because I've uploaded the article. That really means that it's almost done, and that I'm past the crunch mode where there's always something major waiting to be made or be fixed. To preserve momentum, some parts serve as placeholders, pending a better idea; the point is to get to an acceptable level of "doneness" so that the project doesn't drag on forever. Now I'm past that, so it's time to kick back and look at what I've made, assess how it all fits together, lament about what needs to be fixed, think about improvements, and plan what I might make next. For example, the Hooter Predator's forearm console panel was cut and hinged, but I haven't detailed the innards. The feet are near-stock Medicom, and the hands could use some spikes or something. I'd like to try to make a telescoping spear, just to see if I can do it (probably not). I'd also like to try to remake some of the Hot Toys Predator helmets because they're heavy and bulky- Chopper Predator's helmet looks particularly goofy. I'd like to dicker with how HT's armour are attached and articulated since their design severely restricts their figures' articulation. I've got a couple of spare HT 14 bodies, plenty of dreadlocks, and am awaiting delivery of some netting suits, so there's at least one more Predator project that could come out of this...


Post Project Blooz- 11/13/07

Filed under: All Posts< -- Jimbobwan @ 6:14 am

So, my BLAKK2 project is done... What next?

The project post-partum blooz done kicked in. It's a little sad to be abruptly finished, no matter how sick you are of facing the same project every morning. The web article is the final coffin nail, which is why I keep prying it out to for a few edits and pictures. But yep, it's done.

It's great how one thing can lead to another though, and as I've been winding down, I've been thinking about what to make next. Since I've been immersing myself in the Alien/Predator stuff, my thoughts naturally turned to the Alien Queen. How cool would that be? What a huge undertaking that would be. Since Hot Toys is making the powerloader, it's conceiveable that they might make one...? Yeah, bring it on! (So I can stop thinking of doing stupid things)

A more reasonable undertaking would be... a female Predator? There are a bunch of resin kits from Thailand depicting this, and it's one of those favorite controversial fanboy topics: "No boobs! They're not mammals!" Yadda, yadda, yadda. Of course they have boobs, because it's more fun that way. It's FANTASY, ferchristssake. A far bigger question (for me) would be whether ugly Predator mugs can be turned into something other than ugly Predator mugs.

Here's a really great website for all your Predator needs: http://www.predatorstuff.com/

4 Comments

  1. (Not having seen any of the fanboy debates) If they can have ripped abs, they can have boobs. Maybe female Predators have lots of boobs, or an uneven number? There's always that, too. I can't remember-have you made any three-or-more-boobed gals yet...?

    And, if you want to...erm...broaden your idea of what it means to be an Alien or Predator, may I suggest you poke through Alien Loves Predator
    http://alienlovespredator.com/archive.php
    It's especially scary when Abe's Mom calls...

    Comment by Andrea -- November 14, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  2. Sorry, Andrea... It's a little late for more or less than the standard pair, unless I put some on the backside (Hey, I could put nipples on her buttocks... Would that count?). What can I say? I'm a traditionalist, and not really innovative.

    The first installment of the project article's not ready, but I think I've got the working title: "Hooters Predator" (to match the official naming convention, "Scar Predator", "Celtic Predator", & "Chopper Predator").

    The Alien Loves Predator site is... very alien, as if from another world... like mebbe, Nyew Yawk? I don't think I'm cosmopolitan enough to truly appreciate it, but it was entertaining. Thanks for the link and the suggestions!

    -Jimbobwan 11/18/07

    Comment by Jimbobwan -- November 18, 2007 @ 7:13 am

  3. I never thought about Predator's reproduction method (neither about their biology). As the original creature looked like a crustacean-reptilian mixture in humanoid shape, I can't imagine about what could be his life cycle.
    But now, you have done a very interesting turn on this matter...
    Two sexes then?
    Monogamous perhaps?
    A matriarchy society? (your warrior "predatora" give me some clue about it).

    Amazed by your work and creativity, as always.
    Greetings!

    Comment by santorrostro -- November 21, 2007 @ 3:21 am

  4. Welcome aboard Santorrostro!

    I did resist the temptation to give her a belly button, which was hard since I really like belly buttons. So I'm speculating eggs... not that this would ever come up unless you were doing a diorama or something. If you go too far envisioning details of the Predator society, it starts to lose a bit of the magic: Something's building the technology, so do they have factories, disgruntled workers, project managers, investors, suits...? Do the movies depict a group of weekend warriors? Forget the breasts, what are the mandibles for? (To free up their hands for close-up detail work!) Some things are probably best if they're not analyzed too deeply!

    Comment by Jimbobwan -- November 21, 2007 @ 6:15 am



More Guitar Toys...

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 10:05 am

This guitar strap is sooooo kewl.

It's from the "Lucky 13" line by Dunlop, which targets the high-brow culture of tattoo art, COOP, Big Daddy Roth, and Camel Wides.

To fit the funk, the Highway 1 Strat should be more beat up, but it is fairly new, and I'm trying hard not to bang it up, because it's got a really thin nitrocellulose finish. It's a great playing guitar, and a great deal. The neck's like a late '60s 4-bolt design, with a big headstock. The bridge is vintage style, but the stamped saddle spacing is slightly narrower: This makes the high-E string less likely to fall off the side of the fretboard, a problem that I still remember from my long-lost '71 Strat. I'm a firm believer in progress, except when it comes to toll roads.

Although the hot stock pickups sounded good, the single coil hum at 1/3/5 drove me nuts, so I replaced 'em with a set of Kinman's Woodstock Plus. Sweet...

-10/28/07


Miniatures That Look Big, Part 2

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 9:34 am

It's the NECA Balrog from Lord of the Rings, an electronic sound & light action figure, released sometime around the end of 2006. When I saw this 1:12 scale "miniature" in person, I had to get it. It's freakin' HUGE, measuring around about 24 tall, with a 40 wingspan and weighing around 14 lbs. Of course I had no idea where I was going to put it... but where there's a will and some 20 lb monofilament fishing line, there's a way. Suspended from the ceiling, it won't shelf-dive, but I'd sure hate to be underneath it if the lines snap.

-10/28/07


Impressions of the Hobby - Fall 2007

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 5:31 am

I feel like I've been out of the 12 figure/doll hobby for ages now, but I'm not sure what "being in the hobby" really means anymore. It used to be simple, since there was only Vintage Hasbro and New Hasbro; everyone was watching the same channel. Since then, the hobby has splintered into so many interest areas, so I wonder if anyone can truly feel fully "in the know"?

Conventional wisdom says that there's been a downturn in the hobby that started years and years ago. You can prove that point if you're measuring the presence of 12 Hasbro product at Walmart and the number of postings at alt.toys.gi-joe. In the smaller market picture, there's a natural ebb and flow in the fortunes of companies, and through the years, whole product lines have disappeared. Takara no longer makes Cool Girls; 21C is still out there making... something(?) But new companies pop up to fill the void, so there's still a lot of stuff out there. Does the big picture really matter to an individual? The 12 Ultraman stuff doesn't exactly flood the U.S. marketplace each month, but as long as it comes every once in a while, I'm happy. I honestly don't care if kids are interested in GI-Joes ten generations from now.

I haven't been paying attention to much outside my immediate area of interest, so I recently set about to take a broader view- to see what was out there that I'd been ignoring for so long. Not unexpectedly, the WWII and militaria genre is still kicking, with Dragon's Germans still making a strong showing. They've been joined by some other companies, including DID and Hot Toys. The new focus seems to be on super deluxe quality packages, with lots of accessories and alternate outfittings. (I'm still amazed that DID produces fingered fabric gloves for their dolls!) Following Dragon's lead, they produce an occasional larger piece, like DID's "ultimate realistic" horse and Nebelwerfer. Hot Toys appears to be very committed to their sci-fi licenses, with ambitious releases like their huge Ripley & Power Loader set, and ED 209 robot from Robocop. Likewise, Sideshow Toy seems to be doing well with their Star Wars line- Doesn't everyone need a 20 long Jabba the Hutt? If you check out the online import shops, it's clear that there's a lot of 30 cm activity in Asia, especially for media properties that you've probably never heard of.

There seems to be a growing focus on targeting the die-hard fan who's willing to drop some big bucks to service their addiction- it isn't for the price-conscious mass market, or people worried about running out of display space. We're seeing products that are far more detailed and upscale than we've ever seen before. If you were devastated that the Kenner Alien was long discontinued back when you first wanted one, you can get a much nicer one now. If you've always wanted a great, in-scale rendition of the Predator creature, you can get one now, in several different styles. If you always wanted a full squad of exquisitely-detailed Colonial Marines from Aliens, well... you should have started shopping earlier.

The time of product availability seems to be getting even shorter and shorter. These releases don't appear to be of the perpetually-produced kind, so if you don't pre-order or miss the fleeting initial period of general availability, you'll have a second, limited-time chance through eBay, after which they'll drop completely off the radar. There's no guarantee that you'll ever see the thang again, at anything resembling the already-high original MSRP. These aren't like the ten million 3-3/4 Star Wars marketed-as-collectibles figures that are stored MIP, in closets across the land.

For my long period "outside the hobby", my overall impression is that the changes are mainly a matter of degree: There's mo' better stuff being produced- you get more doo-dads made out of different types of materials, it's more detailed, and the products tend to be grander in presentation. The top end price tag has moved upwards accordingly. Those features and the subject matter sell the doll because they're what you see and notice. What's underneath isn't as obvious, and takes a back seat.

At a glance, there don't seem to have been any revolutionary design changes in the figure that all the manufacturers are rushing to copy. In this area, the main bragging right still seems to be the number of articulation points. No one brags about the quality of their articulation, or how good their nekkid doll looks, or even whether their figure can stand without a stand. One case I'll be sure to harp on in the future is BBI's "new" version 2 Perfect Body figure, which really drives the no-improvements point home. Other than the new deflated chestpiece, the main change seems to be that their production tooling is now more worn, and produces some of the worst-feeling articulation I've ever encountered. I hope to be able to say good things Hot Toy's design in a future article or two...

-10/22/07

4 Comments

  1. Jimbob!!!!

    Glad to see that you're taking a peak over the wall....I like this new bloggy thing (though I did have some kinda registration hiccup). i've enjoyed both of the recent articles and I'm looking forward to seeing what the latest one turns out like.

    Just a couple of comments really...Takara is still producing CoolGirls...kinda. They've moved away from the original character premise and have started producing licensed figures in their "Character Tribute" series. All of the most recent releases are from that series and they've even produced a few male figs. We've gotten several repops of a female Panzer Cop from JinRoh as well as a male JinRoh armored cop, a Bale-esque Batman and comic-style Catwoman. Coming early '08 is a Deunan Knute from the movie Appleseed: Ex Machina (based on a late 80's manga). So, not entirely out of the game...

    There are a couple of new female frames out there very similar in design to the body used by Aoshima for its Ladies Mission line. OJI used a similar, but less detailed version of it, and Soldier's Story Toys uses a similarly detailed body (with sometimes dodgy QC) that borrows the ball-joint ankle from Takara.

    On the looking pretty nekkid front, I'd say take a look at the EVA and EVO bodies Triad Toys has been pushing to get to the market. They not available yet, but I take it on faith that they will be someday...there used to be some pics floating about on the web, but I'm not sure of a location since Triad recently switched sites. Let me know and I can send you pics of the prototypes that Triad has posted over the development of these figs.

    Glad you're back!

    EricMc

    Comment by etmcneal -- October 28, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  2. This comment is regarding a comment early in your Hot Toys figure review, although, I guess it's purely trivia, since you're forsaking the Neo Guy... Anyhoo, while you were away from 'the hobby,' Volks opened a store in Los Angeles, and now sells directly from the US online at volksusa.com Neo Guy is available there at the moment, although the in-stock items do vary.

    Plus, there's the whole promised future of the (American company founded by CustomDawg) Triad Toys beauty-and-loads-of-articulation Evo and Eva bodies, which do look nice in those prototype pictures we keep seeing. (I'd advise to pass on the cheap bodies Triad sells now, which are, erm, not up to certain peoples' standards...)

    Welcome back to 'the hobby'-have fun with whatever it is you decide to hack apart.

    Comment by Andrea -- October 28, 2007 @ 8:05 pm

  3. Thanks Eric & Andrea! I appreciate the update and new info.

    My big lament is that Takara/BBI had just arrived with the 2.0 body when they pulled the plug. The figure (and Cy Girls in general) went from great, reasonably priced fodder to expensive eBay collectible. Unfortunately, their limited special releases don't do anything to change this: I'm sure not gonna buy a $100+ doll just so I can cut up the figure! However, the $100+ stuff does appeal to my collector-of-neat-stuff side (like the Appleseed stuff, but I'm not real familiar with the show). Hopefully, Louie can fill that both voids, fodder and collectible- his stuff looks excellent!

    Andrea, thanks for the info about Volks USA, and about the Neo Guy. The two figures (Volks & Hot Toys) are equal at the top of my heap, but for different reasons: Neo Guy has the looks and proportions, but Truetype 38 (isn't that trademarked?) has the tight articulation. I never considered Neo Guy to be legitimate slice & dice fodder since availability was so limited. Now I can think about using my last one (if I can get a replacement before they disappear!).

    -Jimbobwan, 10/29/07

    Comment by Jimbobwan -- October 29, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  4. I'm from the Philippiners and an action figure collector...I'm a fan of Star Wars and just last month, had purchased a 12-inch Luke Skywalker Action figure (Hasbro/Kenner.)

    Just recently, (Last week)I purchased a Cy-Girl G-3 Gatchaman (It was my "first" Cy-Girl figure and just this Monday, I noticed that her pink leather uniform along with her gloves and boots starts to "flake".

    Are there any replacement G-3 uniform available?...If not, what kind of leather material did the manufacturer used to make the pink G-3 uniform?...The G-3 figure is one of the highlights of my collection...
    Please can you help me?

    Buddy Paraiso

    Comment by BuddyParaiso -- February 10, 2008 @ 11:23 pm


Miniatures That Look Big

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 7:53 am

I stumbled across Jason Richard's miniaturespace while cruising for ideas, and was blown away by the guy's artistry. These are gaming miniatures, I believe most are from the world of Warhammer 40K. This website is interesting inspirational fodder and shows the artist's progression over a ten-year period, from a competent painter (like my plateau for the last 20 years), to a master of the craft. He doesn't go into any great detail about the secrets of his technique, but he has some very illuminating pages about... illumination! (gack...) That is, painting a figure as if it were illuminated by a point source of light. It's probably not a usable technique for poseable dolls, but it's still a really interesting effect that would probably look great in dioramas. File this one away under "future challenges"?


Modding Modern Guitar Toys

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 7:51 am

The march of technology is a good thing for the end user, but a mixed bag for the old-timey tinkerer. A tinkerer used to be able to take an electric guitar effect box and transplant its guts or modify its performance. It was basically just common sense, a little knowledge, and it was a peculiar variety of fun. That's become a lot harder nowadays with digital black box circuitry, double-sided circuit boards and tiny surface mount components.

I bought a Digitech Distortion Factory stompbox- a lot of bang for the buck, with 7 different distortion emulations and 3 knobs, set up in concentric style to control 6 parameters. They did this to fit everything in a small package, but I wanted 6 separate knobs so I could see what the settings were and quickly change them. It seemed easy enough: I'd just remove the input & output jacks, replace the concentric pots with 100K singles, and transfer the guts to a bigger box, with some other effects.

The trouble started with the input jack. First, the sucker was soldered to the circuit board in a lot of places, making it very difficult to remove. The second problem was that I couldn't see what was under the input jack: With two-sided boards, they can put surface mount components underneath things like PCB jacks. I didn't realize this until I used a lever to help me unmount the jack, and saw a tiny chip pop out and disappear into the void. (Fortunately, I later figured out what the component was, guesstimated a value, and soldered a humongous-looking standard resistor to the tiny, tiny pads.) After that experience, I didn't bother removing the output jack- I used a trimmed-down 1/4 plug instead of a soldered connection. Fortunately, the concentric pots weren't as big a problem. I'd resigned myself to the fact that nothing was going to come off the printed circuit board intact, so I could demolish the pot down to the circuit board posts.

The final puzzle was the rotary selector control. I'm familiar with multi-pole switches, but this is an entirely different beast, similar to the controls they put on radios. I found out that it was called a "digital encoder", and apparently, each notch triggers a pulse that tells the digital circuit to do its stuff. Therefore, all the switching logic is happening inside the black box, and there's no easy way to customize what's happening. Bummer.

I suppose that this is the price we pay for all the complicated and neat gadgets- nothing gets repaired anymore, anyways.


Wassup 10/04/07

Filed under: All Posts -- Jimbobwan @ 8:16 pm

WEBSITE MAINTENANCE (YAWN...)
Lately, I been pretty busy doing website maintenance stuff, some of which is pretty obvious, but some of it's behind the scenes- really boring stuff, like moving the thousands of pictures into separate subfolders to comply with the webhost's FTP restrictions which sprung up out of nowhere. Zzzzzzzzzzzz...

GUITAR STUFF
I've also been spending a lot of my time doing The Guitar Thing. Although I've tried to learn some new techniques (chicken pickin' and some shred metal licks), at least as much energy (and a whole lotta moolah) has been spent on the gear aspect. In guitar-speak, it's called G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), and proof that the Internet has turned even baddass guitar-playing into a playground for geeks. I've been intending to write articles for the Guitar section, but there's just not that much to say about gear. It's awfully pretty and shiny when new, like the gold one on the left:

(I'm still a Strat person tho..)

WHEEEEE!
I'd probably be spending even more money and time on guitar stuff if we hadn't just got a Nintendo Wii game system. This had my wife's Seal of Approval and funding, and she even enjoyed playing- especially the part where she KO'd me in round 2 of the boxing game. It's quite a step up from our previous system, a Colecovision from the '80s (not counting the Playstation 2 that I owned for 1 day). I reckon that this is supposed to keep me from wanting an Xbox 360 and Halo 3...

FLASH
Speaking of neat stuff... The Sci Fi Channel's new series, "Flash Gordon" is gawdafully bland, but it got me Googling only to discover that the 80's Filmation animated series had finally been released on DVD. The first season was pretty good and reasonably faithful to the original Alex Raymond comics, though not as good as the made-for-TV animated movie ("The Greatest Adventure") that launched it (which hasn't been released). If your taste in entertainment is as undiscriminating as mine, check it out- Princess Aura is one of the most sinfully-drawn cartoon females to have ever appeared on a Saturday morning network kid's show.

BOWER'S STUFF
I'm pleased to see that Martin Bower's got a lot more meat at his website nowadays. If you've never heard of him: He's a Frazetta-caliber model maker who's been involved in just about all the major classic sci-fi stuff since Thunderbirds & UFO. Of particular interest at his site (to me), was a page about "Bower's Girls". I've mentioned them before; they were a major catalyst for my interest in the dollmaking/customizing hobby. His website article is even meatier than the original article I read in the long-defunct "Fantasy Modeling" magazine. Very cool. Be sure to commission a few original works of art while you're there.

(From a previous "Remarks" entry)

-10/04/07