The Little World – What Scale Is That?

Why, it’s a different scale from the one you need, of course. That’s how modelling is done. You go to the shop, see a wonderful model product, and then find that it is the wrong size for what you do.

So you change scales. And the next time you go to the hobby shop the best new product is in yet another scale. If you are in luck the shop will be nearby to a liquor store and you can drown your sorrows.

But don’t get too fond of any one particular drink. Because the next time you go to the booze shop they will be out of it and you’ll have to change again…

You have no chance of telling the manufacturers what to do unless they are back-yard resin casters who make limited-run plastic kits for the specialist market. Even then, your influence will be tempered by their market experience and the practicality of the thing. No good asking someone to invest a considerable amount of time and money in master-modelling something that no-one but you will ever want. You stand a far better chance of getting a one-off model by doing scratch-building yourself. The skills involved will do you good, no matter how successful you are in the finished product…and you can at least take heart that whatever you make has real value if it is unique in the world. Others may reel back in horror, but they cannot deny that you are the owner of the only one.

Smart money plays the odds:

a. If you have any particular idea in mind, do some serious thinking beforehand as to the scope of the project. If it is truly a one-off for yourself, and no-one else will ever want or get one, you can make parts by laborious means. If it is the start of a series of models, you’ll want to have more easily repeatable parts to make it up. If it is a commercial venture, the parts that make it up have to be as good as possible for as cheap as they can be made.

b. The fact that it is one-off in itself does not mean that it will always be alone…ie, if you make a 1:29th scale Roto-Rooter truck you can also use it as part of a large-scale railway layout with Bachman trains and bad drainage. An encouragement not to stray too far mathematically from current commercial scales. And be careful what you plant.

c. Smart money also knows its own limitations – particularly in terms of technical skill. If you know you can make buildings but not cars, you choose a scale where someone else makes the cars and you make the buildings. That’s not really as fatuous a statement as you might think…many’s the time when someone has started out with great ability only to foul up the works when they undertake something with which they have no resonance. I cannot make model figures that look good, but I can make buildings to house commercial figures and buy vehicles to display with them. I choose my scale based upon both of those other factors and my dioramas work.

d. Smart money knows other smart money. Using my example, I know that there are figure modellers who can make superb maquettes to people my dioramas – figures with posing, musculature, shading, and painting. Once I conceive of a scene I can measure, sketch, design, and specify in such a way that one of the custom modellers can make exactly what I need. This might also apply to other enthusiasts who are adept at vehicles, landscaping, painting, or weathering. I hope to raise my skill levels, but if they will never be high enough I can employ those who already have them.

e. Smart money knows that it only needs to make so much – a great deal of the realism of a scene is in the mind of the beholder. Michael Paul Smith said as much in his book about Elgin Park – he gets the realism right enough to start the suggestion juices flowing for his audience. They do the rest.

All this having been said, I would be grateful if the die casters and plastic extruders would set to and give us more stock of ordinary goods in the 1:18th scale. Park benches, lamp posts. fire plugs, pillar boxes, wheelie bins and rubbish tins, ordinary motor-car tyres, Belisha beacons, road signs, witches hats, and such. I would love a set of plastic or concrete temporary barriers and a portable light bank. And a complete set of traffic lights and crossing beacons for an intersection would sell like hot cakes!

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The Little World – Internet Lists

There is nothing more boring than reading an internet list of lumber sizes…or advertisments from roofing firms in the state of Washington. Unless you are trying to find out something that everyone takes for granted and no-one bothers to record.

I will say that today has had a happy ending – I did find out the measurements for siding on houses in Washington in 1959…and I did find out the forms of cheap mastic roofing sheets that were in use at the time. No-one else in the world cares a damn but at least I can use some of the innumerable facts in storage to do something useful. It is going into the construction of my new model building – a house I lived in as a child.

There must be a whole universe of practical facts that we have come to live with and depend upon…but take no notice whatsoever of. The capacity of concrete trucks…which determines how much concrete they can carry…which determines largely how big a concrete structure is.

This does not apply when you are building flak towers in Vienna and have the slaves of the Todt organisation to make the concrete – then you can make the walls metres thick and impossible to remove, even now. But when you are making a cost-limited structure like a basement for a tract house I would be willing to be a fair amount of the planning and design is predicated on concrete loads per se. Fewer is better, and even numbers of loads are desireable to cut down on wastage.

That’s concrete – I was researching siding and found that there were really only three lengths supplied – all of which are shorter than modern practice. Why? Because the delivery trucks were shorter. There was no sheet siding used as it was just before the era of the vinyl cladding. I would also be willing to bet that it might have been James Hardy asbestos siding as well – sourced from the Canadian plants rather than the Australian ones. Good thing the paint finish was unblemished and I didn’t breathe heavily.

I was terrifically impressed with the roofing sites – mastic is a large sheet of heavily filled tarpaper with patterns impressed upon it but the use of it rather than shingles, tiles, or metal sheets argues that the house we lived in was a cheap-built kit job. As a kid I never had that impression – it was big and complex. I had little to compare it to – all the rented houses we lived in were of the same construction, and none of them home for long enough to form a distinct impression. Perhaps the entire world lived in simpler houses then…

All the same, I wish they had used longer pieces of siding for the thing – this gluing 150mm strips in is getting tedious.

The Google Earth Eye In The Sky

If you are a young reader of this column you can go off and pluck your nose hair or chase Pokemon – you already know all about what I am going to discuss.

The rest of us can gather around and plan how to disguise our activities from secret spies. Not that we will succeed, you understand, but it is nice to dream. This thought is brought to you by my activity today in researching my history on the net.

It wasn’t a case of looking up my criminal record ( in my case the most criminal one I have was put out by The Carpenters…) or my academic career. I have forgotten most of my misdemeanors and I suspect the authorities have too. I promise to put the Statue Of Liberty back…

No, it was the curiosity I had about an old house I lived in during 1959. I used the Google Earth program to go back to the old city and then easily traced the neighbour hood and street we lived on. It must be a pretty slow town since the Cold War ended – nothing has changed since then. I could still trace my route to school and to my friend’s houses and the old place we lived in is exactly the same – save for a couple of newish cars parked in the driveway.

This, combined with the chance sighting of an advertisement on the net for the company who built the house in the late 1950’s, has enabled me to draw up plans for a 1:18th model. It is weird enough to do this in any case, but doubly so to be able to do it by measuring the image on the computer and to note the colour of the structure. I am not going to make exactly the same house – that creeps me out. But I will do one from the same builder.

I do feel a little weird looking so intently at someone else’s place half the world and 60 years away. I can even see the address on the letter box…and I can recall the exact layout of the inside of the house. It’s like very old stalking…

So. Go out into the back yard of your place right now. Is it a fit sight for the rest of the world? Is it time to get rid of the still and the old car on the blocks? Should you give up sunbathing in the nude?

The Little World – Metric Conversion Vs The Rest Of Us

The whole world rags on the USA because they still persist with imperial measurements. But let’s face it – if they changed tomorrow the whole world would be just as critical. It is more politics and smarminess than measurement.

Here in Australia we succumbed to decimal currency in the 1960’s and metric measurement some time later. It made jobs for some and trouble for others, but in the end worked out reasonably well. Most people can now think in terms of millimetres, metres, and kilometres. Also millilitres and cubic centimetres. If we avoid all the weird stuff to do with land measurement or subatomic particles we can live a reasonably quiet life.

Soooo…armed with my trusty tape measure, Fujifilm X100, and clipboard, I went out one midday to measure up roadside structures for my 1:18 model dioramas. No one bothered me – no awkward questions were asked. I guess no-one was concerned whether I was planning a terrorist plot on the Telstra pay phones or the local self-service car wash. I promise to be good and not blow things up.

But here’s the kicker. None of the structures I measured – from the Australia Post red post box to the Main Roads Department signal control box beside every set of traffic lights – seem to be constructed on a set of even or standardised measurements. The closest I could find to someone doing it cheap and easy was the City of Canning roadside rubbish bins that are constructed on a 1000mm square base. Every other blessed structure was based upon uneven measurements.

I would be willing to guess that it is the result of separate design bureaux being used by each government authority – no coordination of things at all. Each tender sent out asks for a different design and as many dimensions as there are designers come in. The ones that shave the price by making the box 693 mm wide rather than 1000 mm wide get the contract and another design hits the street.

Who knows what I will find when I start to measure street signs…

The New DIN Units Of Measurement – How They Will Affect You

dscf5520For years we have been able to go to the DIN – the Deutsches Institut für Normung – for a series of standards with which to measure the world. It is associated with the ISO and has been active for nearly a century. Like other national and international bodies, the units of measurement that it has given us are basically useless when it comes to actually living a happy life.

An example would be the DIN A standards that we all adhere to when we use paper – you know, the A4, A3, A0 stuff. Have you ever tried to use A4 paper in the toilet? Slick, hard, and liable to get stuck to the bottom of your shoe at the worst time. You might as well use old SATURDAY EVENING POST covers with the staples still on.

Because of this, and worse, we have decided to establish an entirely new set of measurement units. It should allow us to circumvent the advertising agencies.

a. The Metric Gerbil – MG – is a basic measurement of light. 1 Metric gerbil is enough light to find a tub of leftover pudding in the refrigerator when the little bulb burns out. 2 Metric Gerbils are sufficient to find change down the back of the couch.

b. The Mixed Blessing -Mb – This is a fractional unit of measurement based upon the fact that when something good happens – the clothes all come in dry from the line – there is a downside – they are as stiff as boards and need to be folded with a sheet-metal break.

c. The Whew – Ww – This unit quantifies the sense of relief one feels when something ceases. For every 5 minutes of something you get 1 minute of not-something. But sometimes that 1 minute is enough to prise open a window and escape. This is frequently used at cocktail parties around election time.

d. The Smorgasbord – SGB – is the unit used to measure the degree of nutritional regret. It may be used to analyse meals taken or avoided ( -ve SGB or +ve SGB ) and is further broken down into courses. 3 SSGB ( soup  ) equal 1 DSGB ( dessert ). No SGB scoring is available for tofu.

e. The Imperial Sniff – Imp Snf – is used to rank members of the social elite who visit retail establishments. It is never used in single digits – these are the better classes, after all. Wealthier Sniffers can achieve 10X to 100X of the Imp Snf – nobility sometimes goes to 1000X, particularly if they are associated with areas of Europe that have regressed into the 16th century. Royalty are never measured for the Sniff – it being thought that they are obliged to be above it. Must make having a head cold a messy affair for them…

f. The Shaughnessy Index of Truth – SHit for short – is named after Hap Shaughnessy of the Red Green Show. It has the distinction of being the only negative index in regular use. Hap invented it while working with NASA on the artificial diamond venture. Ask him. He’ll tell you.

Finally, you may have been wondering how DIN could abandon their old standards so quickly – well, they haven’t…the DIN we were referring to is Dick’s Index of Niceness. All the measurement and none of the umlauts.