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Checking in on the Dauntless

August 18, 2010

So far the Accurate Miniatures Dauntless has proven a lot more…daunting…of a build than I anticipated. Not difficult, exactly, but somewhat overwhelming, and punctuated along the way with a lot of experimentation and learning.

It’s also made me realize, far more than the P-51B, how sloppy a modeler I used to be.

Now that I’m hovering around the halfway point, I figured I’d go ahead and dedicate a post to the trials and tribulations I’ve encountered to date.

It’s What’s Inside that Doesn’t Count

The Dauntless began where most aircraft kits begin: the cockpit. But that’s where the similarities end. With most kits, you build and paint the entire cockpit, then install it against one half of the fuselage before joining the fuselage halves together. This works pretty well because it lets you dry fit the entire cockpit before you bust out your adhesive of choice.

The Dauntless’ cockpit was totally different. First, it’s basically a mini-model in and of itself, consisting of something like fifty pieces. To which I added the additional hell of a photoetched detail set.

Second, the cockpit is built in pieces. Read more…

3 Reasons Google Wave Failed

August 4, 2010

Earlier today, Google pulled the plug on Wave, it’s e-mail/messaging/collaboration thing, due to lack of user interest.

Strange to think that just a year after it was unveiled to so much fanfare, that it was being hailed as the future of e-mail, and so on, it would be unceremoniously taken out behind Google’s woodshed and put out of its misery.

So why did it fail?

1. People don’t like others watching them type.

One of the features of Wave was that you could collaborate and edit stuff in real time. Which meant as you edited something or typed something, anybody else “waving” at the same time could see each character appear on screen as you typed it. Gah. No. If everything that came out of my keyboard in a fit of venting and subsequently got deleted when common sense and self-preservation reasserted themselves made its way out onto the interwebs…yeah. Pretty obvious why this one flopped.

2. No simple primary use case.

People – by which I mean the mass market that provides the weight to make something a success or not – don’t like complexity or ambiguity much. Hence Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Google’s successful products – Google itself, Gmail, Google Books, YouTube, Blogger, and so on, they all have very simple, easy-to-understand primary use cases. Find what you want on the Internet. Send people letters over the series of tubes. Watch videos of Justin Beiber. And so on.

Wave, on the other hand…

Nobody ever explained it well. Common Craft did an excellent job of illustrating the possibilities of such a service, but it still took them 2+ minutes, and they never distilled it into the one or two sentences you need.

Personally, I thought – and still think – Google Wave would make an awesome project management tool.

Which leads us to…

3. The absolute worst launch in the history of launches.

Okay, maybe not the worst...

or the second worst...

oh screw it

When Google launched Gmail, it did so in beta. You had to get an invite to join, and for awhile at least, those invites were basically gold.

I guess that’s why Google decided to do the same thing with Wave. Make it this hot, sought-after thing.

Just one problem. With Gmail, you could e-mail ANYBODY. With Wave, you could only “wave” with other “wavers”. Which pretty much made it useless.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool that like three people I knew in high school scored invites, and a few of the guys in tech services who I don’t work with directly on 99% of my projects, but it also made Wave completely useless for that project management/collaboration role that it seemed so well suited for.

By the time the invites opened up to where everyone could get one, the whole world had already said “meh” and moved on to absolutely freaking out over Michael Jackson dying or whatever was happening at the time.

Basically, by limiting access to try to create – ahem – buzz, Google suffocated Wave all on their own.

Oops.

The Next Build – Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

August 4, 2010

A rather terrible Secretary of Defense once said “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want…”

While those words may have sounded callow and dickish amidst the Iraq war, they were certainly true for the United States in the first years of World War II. In the Pacific in particular, we found ourselves thrust into an epic war with a Depression-era military pretty much completely outclassed by the Japanese.

The military that would finish the war, the fleets brimming with Essex-class carriers and Iowa-class battleships, air arms of F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs, squadrons of B-29 Superfortresses and, oh yeah, atomic bombs, simply DID NOT EXIST in early 1942 and didn’t really come online until the tail end of 1943, by which point the writing was written on the wall with a really big sharpie.

The initial fighting in the Pacific was left to an aged fleet and men who had to get by on guts and ingenuity, rather than the better toys.

And yet, it was this aged fleet, battered by Pearl Harbor and the loss of Wake Island and the Phillipines, that turned the tide of the war and made our final victory possible.

If you want to truly appreciate the Douglas SBD Dauntless, you have to understand it in this context.

Read more…

P-51B Build Report 4 – Decals, Weathering and Final Assembly

August 2, 2010

With principal painting on the Mustang completed, it was time to move on to the detail work, beginning with the decals. Read more…

P-51B Build Report 3 – Painting

July 30, 2010

The last post left the Mustang mostly assembled and ready for painting. This time around, I’ll cover off on the process of painting the Mustang and the myriad of lessons learned.

Step 1 – Priming

After sanding down and smoothing out various seams, I sprayed the Mustang with Testors primer. As with any other application, the purpose of the primer is to give the paint a surface to adhere to. Exciting? Not at all. Important? Yes.

Step 2 – The Colorful Bits

Once the priming was complete, I sprayed the section of the wings under the ID stripes with Model Master Aluminum, then traced the various panel lines in Tamiya Flat Black. While I was at it, I went ahead and painted the tires. At the same time, the forward cowl, prop spinner, and wheels were painted Insignia Red.

Once everything dried, I masked off the wings and sprayed the Tamiya Flat White for the ID stripes.

Step 3 – Masking Hell

Before starting in on the main scheme, I had to mask off the forward cowl and ID stripes. The stripes were fairly easy. Certainly easier than the provided decals suggested. All it took was four pieces of tape cut to width and carefully laid over and under the wings. The tricky part is making sure they line up exactly at the leading and trailing edges, but I got it in one or two tries.

Next up came the nightmare of masking the forward cowl. Traditional masking tape and Tamiya’s thinner, more pliable tape were both completely undone trying to encircle the fuselage and kept wanting to veer one way or another. Unable to get a straight line, I finally bought a pack of 3M Artist Tape for Curves. This was also a giant pain to deal with, but I finally got it more or less in place.

Or, well, not exactly in place. I later discovered my masking line was too far forward, but by that point it was too late to do anything about it, so, well, screw it.

With the plane masked off, I also went ahead and applied the Eduard canopy mask to the various canopy bits. These are cut to perfectly fit the canopy, and save a lot of time and hassle over other masking techniques. Still, they weren’t exactly fun to deal with, either, and despite my best efforts there are still a few places where they ended up off by a millimeter or so.

Step 4 – The Underside

Once everything was masked off, I moved on to the main scheme. The underside of Don Gentile’s P-51B was painted in a medium gray color known as Neutral Gray. This made paint selection really easy, since Tamiya happens to offer a color called, aptly, Neutral Gray. I mixed up a batch, loaded it into the airbrush, and started spraying.

A few things became immediately apparent.

First, I’d sprayed the white paint for the ID stripes WAY too thick, to the point where there was a visible ridge where the paint ended.

Second, I was doing the Neural Gray all wrong. The center of the wing, around the bay doors and just forward of the radiator intake, took on this dusty texture, which can be caused by all kinds of things. Spraying too thick a paint mixture, spraying too far from the surface, which gives the atomized paint time to dry before it hits the model, spraying at too high a PSI, which does the same, and so on.

Still, my impatient self put my head down and charged ahead with the lightening and blending coats.Once I was done, the area around the ID stripes and under the center wing area still looked like ass, so I busted out the sandpaper and wet sanded the crap out of the underside, well as the excess white on the top of the wing.

Major lesson learned here? Thin the paint more, cut back the PSI, and stay closer to the model.

On the next go round, everything went quite a bit better. I couldn’t really get the sandpaper into all the little recesses, and the underside still kind of looks terrible in spots, but, well, it’s the underside so who cares?

Step 5 – The Main Event

With the bottom painted, all that remained (aside from some odds and ends such as the prop blades) was to spray the main coat up top. After what felt like hours masking off the underside and cutting some spray masks out of some of Nolan’s construction paper, I gave it the three-layer blend treatment. I think the final blend coat might have been a bit too strong, but then Gentile’s ride was only around for six weeks before he totaled it, and most of the weathering looks like accumulated dirt and stains and chips and such as opposed to paint fading.

The base coat

The lightening coat

The blend coat

Overall, I’m happy enough with the way it turned out. But this is very much my first model back, and it’s quite clear that I’ve got a lot I need to work on.

Up next, decals and weathering.

Choosing Paints, Again

July 20, 2010

Back when I was getting this whole modeling show up and running, I went through this whole decision process to decide what type of paint I was going to go with. I even wrote a blog post about it.

At the time, I went with the paint I’d used growing up, good old Testors Model Master enamel. Why? A few reasons:

  1. It came out of the airbrush far better than the Model Master Acryl acrylics I tried
  2. Despite all the toxic chemicals involved, enamels can be cleaned up even years later (as proven by the removal of all the paint crud in my Paasche airbrush)
  3. Acrylics have a reputation for drying very quickly, even in the airbrush, which struck me as bad considering two young children and the inevitable interruptions they entail

Since that time, I’ve run into some problems thinning the enamels. Laquer thinner is way too hot, and pretty much useful only for cleanup. Mineral spirits work, but they’re touchy. I’ve had a lot of problems with the paint being either too thin and runny, or too thick and spattery. Rarely in between, even with sure bet colors like black.

I’ve also run into problems cleaning up enamels. Instead of flushing the paint straight out, laquer thinner and mineral spirits seem to smear it around. I’ve had to break down both the Paasche and the Iwata after spraying just one color. A simple flush doesn’t do the trick. And all this means more really toxic chemicals on my hands. Toxic chemicals that are a pain to wash off.

Through all this, though, I had never actually sprayed the third player – Tamiya acrylics – through either airbrush. I’d given up after the terrible experience with the Model Master Acryls.

That changed tonight. After spraying the Mustang’s spinner, cowl, and wheels Insignia Red and enduring the arduous cleanup that followed, I decided to go ahead and spray the tires black. Since I wasn’t looking forward to yet another involved cleanup, I figured I’d give my bottle of Tamiya Flat Black a try. I thinned it with some denatured alcohol, transferred the mixture to the Iwata, and OH MY GOD.

The Tamiya paint sprayed like silk. Soft, smooth and perfect. None of the too thin/too thick business I’ve been enduring with the enamels. I didn’t have any problems with the Tamiya paint drying too fast, either, though I’m guessing with the central Texas humidity that won’t be a problem, well, ever.

The final revelation came with cleanup. A single swipe of a paper towel through the paint cup, and a single flush rinse with straight denatured alcohol and the Iwata was spraying clear, with no trace of black visible anywhere.

That was enough to convince me. Tomorrow, I’m switching paint. Good thing I’m only one model in, and haven’t built up too monstrous of a paint inventory yet…

Painting Plans for the P-51B

July 20, 2010

The straightforward paint scheme of Don Gentile’s P-51B Mustang is a big part of the reason I chose it to mark my return to modeling. Olive drab up top, neutral gray down below, with a red spinner.

In the old days, this would have been as simple as jamming three different colors into the airbrush and spraying away.

This time around, though, I’m trying to be a bit more thorough, and apply some of the techniques I’ve learned from the interwebs.

When I started thinking about painting, I began by making lists of steps. Primer, then red, then aluminum, then…no wait, aluminum, then red…

Anyway, it got real easy real fast to lose track of any semblance of order. Then I had an epiphany. Why not Photoshop? Between its various masks and layers and whatnot, the process of building images in Photoshop isn’t really all that far from the process of painting a model. There’s even an airbrush involved.

Once I tracked down a plan view of the P-51B and modified it to suit my purposes, I started painting, and ended up with this:

Of course, this is the final product, but the steps to get to this point, the steps I plan to replicate in the real world, with a real airbrush, are the same.

And since I’m planning to kick off actual painting tonight, I thought it might be fun to share the virtual process. Read more…

P-51B Build Report 2: Main Assembly

July 18, 2010

With the cockpit area completed, it’s time to move on to the main assembly.

Fortunately, the P-51B is a very well-designed and almost perfectly straightforward kit. It’s what’s known as a “shake the box” kit, in that all you have to do is shake the box and the model falls together. I haven’t found it quite that simple, but for the most part, it’s been very smooth sailing. Read more…

P-51B Build Report 1: Initial Inspection and Cockpit Assembly

July 16, 2010

And so it begins. After ten years away and a week or so fiddling with the Fail Dauntless, it’s time to start building models again.

First up? Tamiya’s 1/48 P-51B Mustang.

Tamiya 1/48 P-51B Mustang

The Kit

Compared to the sadness that was the Fail Dauntless, Tamiya’s P-51B is an absolute beauty to behold.

Opening the box reveals several parts sprues molded in light gray polystyrene. Details abound in the recessed panel lines, rivets, and various access points. Initial fit and finish appears pretty much perfect. Read more…

Progress!

July 14, 2010

This afternoon, I came home to watch Nolan for a few hours and maybe even manage to get some work done, too. But when I arrived home, he was wide awake and hadn’t gone down for a nap.

So it fell to me to sit in the bedroom with him in the hope that he might drift off.

Now…Nolan has done this really annoying thing since forever, where he’ll shove a hand up your sleeve or down the neck of your shirt. It’s a comfort thing, I guess. Jamie’s so used to it she doesn’t notice, but it drives me crazy.

And of course, two minutes after I set up shop on the bed and started hammering away at the mound of projects I have on my plate this week, he shoved his little hand up my sleeve.

“Could you please not do that?” I asked, with no expectation that he’d actually listen.

But he did! He pulled his hand out of my sleeve, muttered a tired little “yeah”, and snuggled up against me.

It’s a small victory, but a huge one at the same time.