The USS Chatham on patrol

I build model kits to sell, and recently I built a Star Trek starship for a client that required me to use one of the engines from a USS Reliant model that I had in storage. This worked out well, but it left me with a starship kit with only one engine. What to do? I did this:

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She’s the USS Chatham, a single engine short range starship that’s built to protect planets or spacestations.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how easily this ship adapted to being a single engine vessel. I took the torpedo bay from the Reliant roll bar section and placed it on the forward saucer.

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She can’t stand up on her own, so I slapped together a U-shaped stand out of styrene sheet.

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The Chatham goes to full warp as she investigates reports of a Klingon raider ship in her sector.

I dream of Annika

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In my constant search for a good mystery TV series to watch, I’ve come across some dopey ideas. I enjoy an unconventional sleuth as much as the next mystery fan (which is why I love the new Sherlock, starring that deep-voiced guy with the multi-syllable name, and I’m getting into Elementary; both series do a good job of updating Sherlock Holmes in a fun way).

But some of the more popular shows leave me cold, like CSI (I love how the detective–who normally leads the investigation–stands off to the side while the bug expert is busy interrogating the suspect) and Castle (this has got to be the longest ‘ride-along’ I’ve ever seen! Doesn’t he have enough research material for his book by now?) as well as Criminal Minds (let’s just say it looks like Mandy Patinkin made the right choice in running from this gig).

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It was while searching for something to watch on Netflix Instant that I stumbled across Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, a series of six 90 minute films based on the mystery novels written by Liza Marklund. Sweden always seemed like a happy, content (and very cold) little country to me…until I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and then saw the original Swedish film adaptation. Now I see it as being a happy, content (and very cold) little country with crime.

Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter was produced by the same production team that did the Dragon Tattoo films, and it’s just as sleek and well-done. Malin Crépin does a great job at playing Annika, a reporter at a Stockholm newspaper with a can-do attititude that sometimes lands her in trouble. The first film that I saw, Nobel’s Last Will, takes place at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, where Annika witnesses a murder right on the dance floor.

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Annika is fits into the unconventional sleuth mode without being silly. Being a crime reporter, it’s her job to dig into the various cases she comes across–and many times, she winds up outwitting the cops, as well as the bad guys. She’s not presented as being superheroic; just as a woman who cares deeply about bringing justice where it’s due. Sometimes, this happens at the expense of her personal life. Her long suffering husband and kids often wonder where she is most of the time.

But the fact that she’s not perfect is part of the character’s charm. She screws up often, and is the first to admit it. Annika’s harder on herself than anyone else, holding herself to an impossibly high personal standard. Another cool thing about this film series is that it displays Sweden–both the cities and countryside–to great effect. It made for a very nice change of pace for me, and if you don’t mind reading subtitles (the films are presented in their original Swedish), then I highly recommend this series. Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter is available on Netflix Instant, as well as on DVD.

Green Lantern Redux

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This is the second time that I built this Green Lantern model kit, from Moebius models.

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It’s in 1/12 scale, and shows GL battling a robot by creating a giant green hand that swats the metallic monster on the ground. The model is very imaginative and well-designed.

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And when you add a cheap dollhouse lighting set to the model, it can look pretty impressive in the dark.

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I’m not even a big fan of Green Lantern, but I had so much fun building and lighting the first one (which I sold) that I had to do this one again.

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It’s a really fun model that, when done up, can look really cool.

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Beginning with model railroading

We have a guest poster with us today: Mark Harrison, who’s going to talk about getting started with model railroading.

Your First Model Railroad: How to Start and Finish It on a Budget

Building your first model railroad layout can be intimidating. Open
any model railroading magazine and you will see page after page of
pictures of huge, incredibly detailed layouts, which have been built by
expert modelers or teams of expert modelers. Thinking about the
hundreds or even thousands of hours it would take you to create anything
similar – and with no guarantee of comparable results – is enough to put
many people off from ever starting. Those who do get started on their
own ambitious projects sometimes underestimate the time it will take, or
hit unanticipated roadblocks and get discouraged.

But don’t despair! Model railroading is actually a very accessible
hobby to the newcomer, and in this article we’ll discuss a few ways to
make your first layout inexpensive but still great-looking, and to
maximize the chances of you getting it finished.

DO

1. Start small. As I hinted at in the introduction, emulating one of the big layouts you see in magazines is a sure-fire way to fail as a newbie. A small layout will allow you to spend more time on details, so although it won’t be huge, it will look great. Model railroaders are also constantly changing and expanding their layouts, so starting small doesn’t in any way limit the potential of your layout in the future.

You could design your layout from the start with possible future
expansion in mind, but this isn’t necessary – it’ll just be a bit more
work expanding it if you don’t.

2. Consider scale carefully. HO scale is the most popular, and so has
the widest range of products available. It’s also generally the
cheapest, as parts can be manufactured in greater bulk, and it strikes a
happy balance between being large and so requiring lots of material, and
being too small, thereby making production of fine detail difficult (and
expensive). (If you live in the UK OO scale is most popular and might
be your best bet, for the same reasons.) N scale is also popular, and
may reduce your expenses bill for materials used for landscape building
(as the layout will generally be smaller). Really the choice between
HO, N and other scales comes down to what space you have available – but
just make sure that whichever scale you choose has a sufficient range of
reasonably priced items available for the era and location that you want
to model.

3. Investigate unorthodox sources of materials. You’ll be amazed what
bits of ‘junk’ can be found at a tip which can be put to work on your
layout. Your garden or the local park will have everything you need to
build trees, grass and ground cover. Building sites often have unwanted
insulation foam lying around that they’ll be happy to give you if you
ask, and this is ideal for building layered hills and landscapes.
There are also a few things we suggest you steer clear of as a
beginner.

DON’T

1. Scratchbuild. Scratchbuilding is the art of building things from
scratch, rather than from kits, and is a way to produce bits of scenery,
buildings or rolling stock which aren’t commercially available. It can
also be a good way to save money, as buying raw materials will generally
be cheaper than buying a finished product or ready-to-assemble kit.
With that said, it’s also time-consuming and requires considerable skill
to get the finished article looking good, and is a great way to
frustrate yourself as a beginner. It’s also no longer necessary to get
a realistic-looking layout, as many manufacturers offer very detailed
and accurate pieces nowadays. Of course, if you’re really confident and
scratchbuilding is one of the aspects of the hobby that most appeals to
you, don’t let this put you off. Otherwise – you’ve been warned!

2. Kitbash. Kitbashing is the practice of taking bits from two or more
ready-made kits and combining them to make a new model. As with
scratchbuilding, it takes a bit of skill to get this right, so may be
best left for after you’ve completed your first layout.

3. Buy poor quality track or rolling stock. Naturally you want to save
as much money as possible on your layout, but buying the cheapest
available track and rolling stock is not the way to do it! There’s
nothing more frustrating than a locomotive which doesn’t run smoothly,
either because of poor electrical connections in the track, or because
of lower quality wheels or other faults with the locomotive. It’s also
a common cause of derailments, which will lead to more money being spent
in the long run as your train goes crashing through your lovingly
crafted scenery. Low quality track will need to be replaced sooner
rather than later, further adding to the check.

If you take just one tip away from each section of this article, it
should be number 1 from the ‘DO’ section, and number 3 from the ‘DON’T’.
If you take my advice about starting small to heart, you will finish
your layout, and a small layout where you can actually run your trains
in realistic surroundings is infinitely more satisfying than a large one
which is forever a work in progress. You also won’t really know if
model railroading’s for you until you’ve finished at least one layout.
As for buying high quality track and rolling stock – just trust me on
this one. It will save you untold heartache and frustration down the
(rail)road.

Finally, many more tips like these are available in Mark Harrison’s
free eBook Model Railroad Planning for Beginners. In around 10 pages
Mark takes you through the whole process of planning and preparing to
build your first model railroad, without assuming any prior knowledge of
the hobby. Go to www.hobbyrailroader.com to grab your free copy now.

Bad Movie, But Great Visuals!

There are some movies in my DVD/Blu-Ray collection that I own strictly because they look gorgeous. The film itself may not be very good; the story might be weak, but damn does it looks great visually. I like to think of these films as being great eye candy–and sometimes, that’s all you need:

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Prometheus:
Why it falls short: Too many scenes where the characters act very dopey (like removing their helmets while in an alien enviornment), which kept pulling me out of the story.

Why I own it on Blu-Ray: It’s directed by Ridley Scott, who gave us the original Alien and Blade Runner. Scott has proven himself to be a true artist with the camera, and Prometheus is no exception. It’s visually stunning.

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Avatar
Why it falls short: A weak story that’s filled with cliche characters (the evil military vs. the saint-like scientists) saddled with a politically correct (and dull) storyline make this a predictable romp through familiar places.

Why I own it on Blu-Ray: Director James Cameron is a brilliant visual designer who pays attention to the smallest details, and he doesn’t hold back here. The Na’vi civilization is very well thought out, but there’s also the same amount of intricate work spent on the human tech. You easily feel like you’re on another planet.

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Flash Gordon (1980)
Why it falls short: Extremely silly to the point of being demented, this remake of the 1930s SF serial reimagines Flash as a quarterback for the New York Jets, which he even introduces himself as to Ming. Throw in glitzy, shiny sets that look like a bad Las Vegas production number, and we go from bad to worse.

Why I own it on DVD: Because it looks fantastic. The vivid colors are blended in with off the wall set designs and costumes to create a visual feast for the eyes–especially on the DVD, which finally presents this corny comic strip in widescreen.

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Tron: Legacy
Why it falls short: Suffers from a ham-handed attempt to create characters that just falls flat. The motivation of the main characters, as well as some basic explantion as to what’s going on gets lost in the shuffle.

Why I own it on DVD: Because Tron-World is so darn pretty to look at. Reinvented here as a gleaming futuristic city in a land of perpetual night, this GCI landscape simply looks glorious on Blu-Ray.

Do you have any visually stunning films in your collection that you love to watch, over and over again? Let me know in the comments.