Once again, it's time for one of my updates, mainly to squelch rumors that
I've been abducted and probed by aliens, or swallowed whole by the recession.
The truth is less interesting; I haven't done anything related to 1:6th scale
since the beginning of the year, but I've been having fun with other stuff. Yep,
there's more to life than 1:6 scale and drinking beer, and I'm guessing that if
you're the kind of guy that messes with dolls, then maybe you'd be interested
in some of the other stuff that I'm interested in. Like, ferinstance...
The deepening recession meant that it was time to get an expensive camera
so I could shoot simulated grainy B&W photos of poor downtrodden folks
laid low by these troubled times. Actually, photography's not a very deep
interest for me- I like gear (especially if it's black and has lots of
accessory potential), but am not much interested in the deepgeek technical
stuff like "RAW workflow" and Depth of Field calculations. Basically,
today's digital SLR's can take high quality pictures in low light, with
fast autofocus and minimal shutter lag. A Nikon D90 has enough manual
settings to satisfy an authentic camera geek, but you can run it in full
auto mode and make people think that you're a camera geek (especially
with an 18-200mm telephoto hanging off its noggin).
I thought that a new camera would be useful for the website, iffen I
ever made anything again worth photographing. (Nevermind that a 4288 X
2848 pixel image would have to be greatly reduced or cropped to be suitable
for web, like what you'd get from a $50 Point & Shooter.) I even got a
remote-trigger flash for fancy lighting, iffen I ever made anything again
worth photographing. Realistically, it's more of a hassle than I'm used
to just to set up a simple shot.
Cameras are great justifications for going to places and activities
that you might not otherwise go; they give you something to do, and you
might even find yourself taking closeup shots of flowers. (Sheesh!) If
you're smart, you'll get your wife involved so she can have fun with her
own camera (and isn't perpetually waiting for you). On the practical side,
cameras are useful for documenting things like hail damage, feral kitties,
friends & relatives.
Oddly enough, our new expensive toys can't photograph purples-- purples
come out as blues. My old Canon G2 didn't have problems with this. Even
weirder, there are only a few references to this through Google, and most
delve into arcane scientific explanations of the phenomenon, or how easy
it is to correct in Photoshop. Sounds like bullshit to me: I know what
purple looks like. If my ancient G2 could do it, why can't the fancy Nikon?
My one big 'heads-up!' warning for prospective new DSLR camera buyers:
Google "Grey Market" before you start shopping. Cameras distributors like
NikonUSA refuse to repair, touch, or even look at a Nikon if it wasn't
intended for NikonUSA distribution, bought through an authorized dealer.
And it's near impossible to tell the difference from markings on the packaging:
They'll do a lookup of their top-secret serial number list and give you
the bad news when you try to register it. If you want a warranty, be sure
to look at the list of 10,000 dealers at their website. Assume that it's
probably grey market if you see what appears to be a good deal. (Or conversely,
if it appears to be overpriced, it's probably legitimate.) For what it's
worth, this is a really useful link for checking out those questionable
online sales sites: resellerratings.com
Tarnation!!! 12/04/15- When I posted this section six years ago,
it didn't seem so totally inappropriate. Today, it's a different
story because there are serious nutballs out there.
Today's Internet and the digital connectedness/pervasive news/media
cycle probably play a role in this. For some, virtual tribalism
seems to validate or legitimize demented ideas that everyone used
to know were forbidden and never to be acted upon. Nowadays,
it's just too easy for like-minded nutballs to find each other and
work themselves up into a lather.
RADIO CONTROLLED CARS
Slot cars are now enjoying their retirement. I'd taken down my slot car track
to make room in the storage shed for storing stuff (huh?). It was a hard
thing to do because playing with those little suckers was fun. Still,
that didn't kill my interest: When I found out that Revell was going to
release the John Surtees Can Am Lola T70, I had to get it-- even without
a track. The Surtees Lola got me thinking about slot cars again, and specifically,
the choices between the traditional analog style and the newer digital styles.
(Style(s) because manufacturers have their own versions of digital systems
and they don't work together.) As I understand it, digital lets you run
more than two cars in two lanes because cars can use special sections of
track for switching lanes and passing. Of course, adding this to an existing
analog setup can be problematic, and certainly expensive. That got me thinking
of new ways to spend money...
Even though they've been out since around 2002, I'd never heard of Kyosho's
radio-controlled Mini-Z cars before, but that's where Googling "1/32 RC
cars" led. At 1:28 scale, they're bigger than 1:32 slot cars, but smaller
than 1:24 slot cars. Although the RC cars are more expensive (but not
always), RC gives you more functionality for your buck. These tiny things
have front and rear suspensions, and more opportunities for tinkering
and spending even more bucks on upgrade parts. On the other hand they're
much less tweakable than their larger scale cousins, which can suck some
major bucks out of your wallet.
RC cars don't need special tracks to change lanes and 40 of them can race at the same time. They drive forwards and in reverse, and you have to steer them! They're less challenging than RC helicopters (which taught me my limitations, skill-wise and pocketbook-wise), but more so than slot cars. Of course, to get really good at anything is challenging, since we run up against those humbling limitations of our reflexes and abilities.
A cheapie lap timer/counter can be cobbled together with a laser pointer and a Microsizers
Digital Lap Counter (about $5 on eBay). IR detector is made external with an extension and put into an aluminum tube so you can handle the control unit without changing the laser/detector alignment. Alignment is not very critical.
car tracks are fairly space-efficient and can vary from a small, simple loop to an elaborate setup with overpasses and scenery. Even
the simple ones are enough trouble to set up and take down so that you're
inclined to want a permanent or semi-permanent setup. One attraction of
RC is that you don't need a track. You can run Mini-Zs on low-pile carpet
or the smooth concrete of a garage floor. A couple of plastic barrel tops
thrown on the floor and you're set to do laps and figure-8s. If you want
to invest in a formal track, RCP makes a modular system of interlocking
foam panels. RCP tracks have very good traction, which lets you go fast
without spinning out. The formal track enforces lanes that you cannot
cross (versus a line drawn on concrete). The foam guardrails help to minimize
serious damage to your car (from the track-- not from other cars). These
tracks are huge though, by slot car standards-- A popular lane width is
2 x 19" tiles, resulting in a 33"-wide lane. RC cars need a lot of lane
width if you want to drive fast, and RCP's basic "Wide L" track easily
fills half of a two-car garage. Despite this, the track is quick & easy
to set up/take down and store, since it's light and can be broken down into 5 or 6
sections that can lean up against your garage wall. Especially important
when you hear there's a hailstorm headed your way!
1:1, 1:10, 1:28, & 1:32
This isn't my first experience with RC cars-- I have an ancient Kyosho
1:10 scale Testarossa and Team Associated RC-10 from back in the day.
What I didn't like about those was that you had to go somewhere outdoors
with a lot of space to race them, and the batteries only gave about a
5-minute run time. The battery life/capacity has improved, but I was blown
away when I heard that these little 1:28 RC cars could run for 45 minutes
on a set of AAA rechargeable batteries (less if you use high gearing and
a power-hungry motor). Between the long run time and the convenience of
racing indoors, whenever you wanted to, one could put in an awful lot
of practice time... even at 3 a.m. in your skivvies.
However, Mini-Zs are fussy about where they're run. The racers are indoors
cars (with minimal road clearance), although you can set up an RCP track
outdoors. They definitely can't be run off-road, or in a parking lot where
tiny pebbles are like 1:28 scale boulders-- they need a really clean and
smooth garage concrete floor, or you'll hit micro boulders and collect
bunches of crap in the wheel bearings.
Given how neat Mini-Zs are, I was surprised at how few websites were
devoted to them, and how meager a following they seem to have. By that
measure, slot cars seem to be far more popular. Larger scale RC cars remain
far more popular, at least in the USA. They're really fast, and it's a
grander spectacle to watch big cars racing around a dirt track or concrete
parking lot than tiny cars zipping around a big track in a room. It could
be that Mini-Zs have been out for quite a while (so the novelty has passed),
or that they're fairly expensive to get into, or that there's so much
competition between other scales, or even poor marketing by Kyosho-- at
this time, Hobbytown USA doesn't carry any Kyosho. Mini-Zs aren't
the smallest RC racecars, but I think they're a nice balance between compactness
of an indoors runner, reasonable scale physics, and ability to tweak without needing a microscope.
Video with a car-mounted USB video camera. Imagine trying
to drive this car remotely by monitor in real time with a wireless camera...
gaaaaaa! You're probably wondering, "Why don't they make this into a video game?"