Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tinkering, tampering, jiggering, pokering

Done a little bit of rearranging to the links, mainly sorting out the more frequently updated blogs from the others. I thought about arranging them into catergories like "People I do stuff with in real life", "Other People I have met", "People I've never actually met but I like how they write" and so on, but the thought of doing all that editing made my head hurt, so I just sorted it into frequent flyers and dabblers, as well as adding a couple of new finds.

Also added another modelling link or two, another astronomy link and another weather link. I recommend you have a look at each at least once to justify the mental energy I expended to put them there, even though I put them there primarily because I use this as my internet hub than because I thought my vast legions of readers might be interested in them.

I should update the recommended reading links as well, since it is at least a year since I listed my favourite posts. Suggestions welcome.

I should probably get a banner too. Anyone want to design a banner for me? Visual design is not one of my strongpoints.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shorts of Intimidation

Listening to: Core - Stone Temple Pilots

Broke out my preferred summer playwear at Indoor Netball on Monday night, the first warm and muggy night of the season, in the form of the sleeveless T shirt and the trusty bandanna. The netball centers being large sheds with poor ventilation and no air conditioning can get more than a little toasty. Here is a representative pic from the summer before last of me practicing my steely eyed and calculating down court stare, with Fi doing the same behind me. NotKate probably took this, since clearly I didn't.
Of course, with the lack of sleeves, out come the arms, naturally a shade of pale white, now practically incandescent after a lack of exposure over the winter. And with the arms out, so are the tattoos. This makes me feel a little posey and self concious, but the bandanna keeps the sweat out of my eyes and the tank top makes a big difference in the melting stakes on a hot summer night. I tend to run pretty hot anyway, and never play in anything more than shorts and a T even in the middle of winter. Some people play in polypros and woolly hats on cold nights. I'd desolidify onto the floor if I tried that.

Still I'm sure some people are thinking 'POSER!'. Meh, at least I'm not wearing skins. I am wearing my intimidation shorts though in this pic:
I got them when I played a season of Superleague for the center a few summers ago. Superleague is like the serious grown up professional cousin of the social league games I normally play. Teams practice, have coaches, have uniforms (kinda like proper outdoor netball even). The overall skill level is a lot higher than the social grades (being that I played for the lowest grade team at the club, I'm not saying my own skill is a lot higher than the social grades, but you get my drift). Superleague players also play in the social leagues as well (and seem to be regarded as having some kind of mystical aura of super skill by the social players at times), so when I'm taking the court and I see someone wearing those shorts, I know they could be potentially a tougher opponent than the rest.
Hence the shorts of intimidation. I wear them if I am feeling confident and want to put some psyche on the opposition before the game starts. And often if I am wearing them I will play better, since I am like, reprazenting (YO!) and stuff.
Or if my regular black and yellow Canterbury harlequin rugby shorts are in the wash.
Check out the spectacular ACTION SHOT! Apologies for the graininess, these were shot at something crazy like ASA 1200, since using a zoom lens without a flash in a softly lit arena isn't conducive to sharpness at more rational exposure speeds.

Also note the player I am blocking is wearing cotton gloves to protect her fingernails. Which is fine, except for the fact you can't catch anything with them on. Another shot of this game shows the scoreboard, and we were stomping these guys, which figures. The power of the shorts of intimidation combined with wussy cotton gloves is not to be trifled with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fast Cars

Listening to: Liberation Transmission - Lost Prophets

We used the Labour Day holiday to check out the Formula 1 exhibition (link) at Te Papa yesterday (finally, a week before it ends. Its only been running since July). I was keen to have a look, not only as a sometime F1 fan, but also because I like seeing how designs evolve, and how function dictates form.

And because I wanted to take arty photos of really fast cars.

The oldest car on display ( Lotus from 1958) is almost frighteningly simple compared to a current racer. And somewhat scary. No seat belts, no roll bar, and tires narrower than my car.

By 1966 (Brabham) some safer looking wheels were in use, but the cars still have an almost home built look.
I like how on the older cars almost all the mechanical and engine components are totally exposed. It gives them an organic, almost bio-mechanical look.

Even grippier tyres by 1968, and aerodynamic aids like fins and wings are starting to appear. The basic stereotypical shape of the modern F1 machine is evident now.
Also noted on the 1968 car was the increasing presence of sponsorship, which would totally dominate the colours and appearance of the cars by the late 80's and early 90's
1988 McLaren in front, 1992 Williams in the middle, 2004 Ferrari behind.
1968 McLaren front wing:
2004 Ferrari

By 2004 the plane guy in me is starting to see a low flying aircraft rather than a car. There is an oft told but never tested theory that a modern F1 car generates so much downforce (inverted lift) aerodynamically that at top speed it could be driven upside down on the roof of a tunnel.

The extreme aerodynamics of the contemporary cars are almost like abstract sculpture rather than racing vehicles. 2006 McLaren.

And the modeller in me appreciates the detail painting on the Mclaren when seen close up. That car looks good in silver and orange red. Plus team founder Bruce McLaren was a New Zealander, so obviously that will be my favourite anyway.
I like the extreme form/function aesthetic of these cars, geared as it is not so much toward sheer speed as it is toward control and effiency.

Worth checking out if it comes to your town and you're interested in design evolution, even if you aren't a racing fan.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walk this way

About two weeks after learning to stand unaided, Charlotte started learning to walk. She has been toddling about with rapidly increasing skill for about three weeks now...

I know billions of people have been doing this for the last million years or so, but for her and us this is still an amazing novelty, and her joy at this new ability is contagious. Walking is pretty complicated when you think about it, and I am amazed at how fast she is getting the hang of it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Everyone's a critic

Listening to: Yield - Pearl Jam

‘Rip it Up’ was once essential reading to me. Between 1994 and sometime this year I only missed purchasing one issue. In the past year or two though, I noted I was reading it less and less, was finding the content not as relevant as I once did, and I was really buying it just out of habit. So I stopped, and consigned it to the ‘interesting issue’ only purchase department, along with several other magazines I used to get regularly.

This months issue being guest edited by Eddie Vedder qualified as interesting so I picked it up. Actually ‘ghost edited’ might be a better term, since the editorial is something of a generic reminiscence, making me wonder just how much input Eddie actually had into the content (if you are reading Eddie, please feel welcome to elaborate in the comments).

Amongst the elevated Pearl Jam content is the regular ‘Essential’ guide, which is a rough lowdown for newbies to an artist’s work, with categories like ‘Start with', 'Follow with', ‘Then get’, ‘Wild card’ and ‘Avoid’.

Comparing your tastes to a critics is a crummy way of self assessment, since it usually winds up with me questioning my own calibration and taste, which is stupid, but there you go. Case in point, Pearl Jam’s 1998 album ‘Yield’ is consigned to the ‘Avoid’ category.

Say what? But I love ‘Yield’! Is my musical sense somehow out of whack and I am the only one who does?

Calming down a bit I realise that ‘Yield’ is only marked as ‘Avoid’ in the sense that it is perhaps not essential if trying to experience an overall summary of Pearl Jam’s body of work. Although the potted summary is damning with faint praise, saying things like “a hard hitting rock collection...rather straightforward....solid...contains no interesting voyages and has no hits at all...first record since 'Ten' not to hit number one on the Billboard chart". ‘Yield’ is probably my second or third favourite Pearl Jam album. I can’t think of it without remembering the hot summer of 1997-1998, driving places on warm nights with the windows down listening to mellow tracks like ‘Wishlist’ and ‘Lowlight’, turning it up for tracks like ‘Given to fly’ and ‘In Hiding’. It doesn’t seem to be a critics fave but I think it is a pretty good album, and it was given good reviews on its release. Later that summer the tour for that album reached Wellington, and on a blistering hair product meltingly hot night they played an awesome set (link to that nights setlist here) to a full house at the horribly acousticed tin shack then known as the Queen’s Wharf Events Centre (now known optimistically as the TSB (Taranaki Savings Bank for the non NZ readers) Arena, still with the same crappy sound). ‘Yield’ also deserves credit for getting me into Led Zeppelin, after a random hearing of ‘Ramble On’ reminded me of ‘Given to Fly’, and got me thinking that an obvious influence on one of my favourite bands might be worth checking out. Later I would discover that ‘Given to fly’ is itself pretty much a homage/reimagining of Led Zeppelins ‘Going to California’ (the verse melody is almost identical), but I’m getting off track.

‘Ten’ on the other hand is unsurprisingly listed as essential, with the qualifier that "it is largely regarded by Pearl Jam's fanbase as their greatest record", which besides being kind of a put down in itself for a band that has been recording for nearly twenty years (“Yup, you guys peaked way back then, and nothing you have done since is quite as good, sorry about that”), isn’t an opinion I’d agree with (as one of said fans). Of course that isn’t to say that debuts can’t be an artists best work (and they often are), and ‘Ten’ is an incredibly accomplished first album for a young band. I just think some of their later stuff is better. Like for example the second album ‘Vs’, released in October 1993 (and the first album I got as soon as I could after it came out. On cassette of course, being that this was 16 years ago and I wouldn’t get a CD player for another year).

I prefer ‘Vs’ to ‘Ten’ for a bunch of reasons. ‘Ten’ is great, but sometimes feels a little unfocussed and sprawling. ‘Vs’ is tighter and leaner, without being any less uncompromising. I think it is a more rounded collection of songs, with stronger songwriting. Opening track ‘Go’ grooves along quietly for the first twenty seconds or so, then the drums come in and its full noise pedal to the metal stuff for the rest of the song. The next track ‘Animal’ maintains the pace and noise, respite only coming in the form of track three ‘Daughter’ , which showcased the bands willingness to evolve and try new things, one of the things about them that has kept me a fan for all these years. They could have easily released ‘Ten II’ (‘Eleven’?) and had another monster. The material in the form of tracks like ‘Alone’, ‘Yellow Ledbetter’, ‘Wash’, ‘State of Love and Trust’, ‘Breath’, ‘Crazy Mary’ and ‘Footsteps’ for example was certainly there for the compilation. They chose the more creative road though, and made a much better album for it. ‘Vs’ is a damn good listen (even if I now skip ‘Daughter’, due to hearing it just too many times after it became a crossover mainstream hit).

Like ‘Yield’ would do later, ‘Vs’ would become the sound of my summer of 1993-94. I listened to it for the first time in a while the other night and was struck by how undated it feels. Tracks like ‘W.M.A’, ‘Leash’, ‘Rats’ and ‘Rearview Mirror’ still sound fresh at the same time as being highly nostalgic. And that’s why I like it.
Maybe I should be a critic or something :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Too Mainstream?

Listening to: Coldplay - X+Y. Deliberately mainstream, and the only Coldplay material I own. Not perfect, but it has its moments.

Presenting for the first time on this blog, my CD collection:

There is this music blog I follow, and this post is inspired by a comment left on it (link). Partly inspiring also was that if the comments on that blog in general are correct, a few of my favourite bands are now definitely less than cool.
In the linked post, readers were invited to answer a set of questions in the comments. The question of inspiration was number 10: Have you ever hidden music from your collection when someone has come around to visit? And if so what was it?

My answer (buried in the comments) was 'Never', along with most of the respondees. I was intrigued by one answer though (comment 33 if you're into scrolling) that admitted "Generally i'm reasonably proud of most of my collection but I have hidden the odd U2 album (actually most of them seeing as I own them all) for fear of being seen as generic."

This touches on a common theme I notice amongst music fans, that the mainstream is somehow a bad thing, commonly expressed as 'I liked (insert artist here) when they were new, but after (insert best selling album here) they went downhill and just write generic mainstream rubbish'. The more famous you get, the less cool and credible you are, almost to the point that mainstream success it seems is frowned upon by serious fans. I've noted that one local alternative radio station often plays certain tracks months ahead of more mainstream competitors, but ceases playing them once the mainstream stations get in on the act.

Admittedly, some artists do make a tidy living by releasing unchallenging mass market sounds. But this doesn't necessarily mean it is bad music. Overplayed and over exposed perhaps, but not intrinsically rubbish. Some of it is intrinsically rubbish, but shockingly enough, some artists achieve massive success by virtue of being really really good.

I have a lot of U2 albums in my collection (all of them apart from the new one in fact). Admittedly the last above average one is 1996's 'Pop', and the last great one is 1991's 'Achtung Baby', but the thing is they are there because I like them, and if you want to stand in front of my collection and mock me for it, thats your problem not mine. A lot of people hate U2, but I get the feeling thats more for exposure and hipness reasons than musical ones. They are definitely uncool, and admittedly my preference is for their early and middle material rather than their latter stuff which doesn't really grab me. But a lot of dislike gets directed at the likes of U2 and Coldplay simply because they are U2 and Coldplay.

I think this is turning more into a rant against precious sneering pretentious music fans than a discussion of whether or not the mainstream is bad. It got to the point a little while ago where I was framing some of my CD buying decisions by the criteria of "Is this cool? Can I have it on my CD shelf? Does it have enough alternative credibility", rather than "Do I like this and will I listen to it?". One of the benefits of getting older is that you care less and less about what people think of you, which means the latter criteria now guides my purchasing.

I would never hide any of my CD's (even if I have more reason to now the collection has been melded with my wife's). I have a lot of mainstream stuff. I have a lot of alternative stuff. I can name a relatively obscure alternative band (The Afghan Whigs) as one of my favourite artists if required.

There is a certain elitism to being a serious music fan I think. What annoys me though is when that elitism becomes simple snobbery. The sneerers would do well to remember though, without a mainstream, there would be no alternative.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Led Zeppelin killed my car stereo

This post brought to you by the tree behind our Masterton motel unit, which appears to have been installed upside down:
So after probably thousands of hours of use, the factory installed CD player on our wagon died in the middle of our roadtrip yesterday. The final exertion that caused the expiry was, Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir'. I guess the combined power of Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones was too much. Still it's a nice epitaph, and it did at least wait for the track to finish before rolling over.

The Kelson branch of the Hall family headed over the hill to Masterton for the weekend with a bunch of mates to celebrate a birthday. The idea of the weekend was to go Hot Air Ballooning, which determined the location. As it turned out, this became Not Air Ballooning due to the weather.

Heres a summary of what we got up to instead:

-Ordering stonegrills even though we were asked not to since we were eating late, the kitchen was short staffed, and the chef was required soon to be the house DJ.
-The above mentioned DJ Jazzy Chef, switching from 60's and 70's classic hits to 00's pop dance tracks in the space of four songs.
-Cougars sharpening their claws in anticipation of a night of pursuit and feasting.
-The Irish Bar / Nightclub where this took place
-The Poltergeese. Few hear their honking and survive
-If you leave your motel unit for a smoke, take your key, lest you be locked out at 4am and wake up most of the complex by knocking on various windows of your unit to try and wake up those inside
-The Wiry Rapper from the Wairarapa
-The Chuck Norris Booya
-The 'Sleep with James Bond and perish' rule
-Breakfast Pizza
-S: "I spy with my little eye something beginning with R "
F: "Inside or outside the car?"
S:"Outside the car"
F: "Radio!"
-The Silver Ferns would play better if they were made to learn each others names
-The Silver Ferns fastnet game would benefit from the advice of experienced indoor netball players.
-To complement the faster game, 5-day long games of netball should be introduced
-Netball is not Rocket Surgery. Nor is it Brain Science.
-Charlotte is continuing to investigate the duration of fall for items dropped from her high chair. Once she has reached a definitive answer she will address the mystery of how the dropped objects always return to her hands without her input
-Rambo can teach us valuable life lessons
-Overkilling something is better than underkilling it
-If you are going to get called for contact anyway, you might as well make it count

Also a source of amusement on the way over the hill was this flashing roadworks notice. Message one was a bit ho-hum:
Message two though was a bit WTF:
I'm not sure yet if this estimate is optimistic or pessimistic....

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Aftermarket Tabus

Last week I finished the first Second World War Luftwaffe model (as opposed to the post war and current Luftwaffe which is an entirely different entity) I have made in close to twenty years. It's a Stuka, finished as it might have looked serving on the Russian front in the winter of 1944. Like all Luftwaffe aircraft of the era, it has a Swastika (or more correctly a Hakenkreuz) on the tail fin.

I'll admit to being a lot more cognisant now of the meaning and history behind that symbol than I was in the eighties when I last applied it to a model. Sure when you are a kid you understand that the Nazi's were the bad guys, and probably not very nice people, but true appreciation of the evil and horror committed in the service of that insignia (for those who didn't experience it directly at least) only comes with the insight of adulthood.

It's sad in a way, that an ancient symbol adopted by peoples all over the world was utterly corrupted (in the west at least), possibly forever. Wikipedia has a good potted history of the swastika (link) and its long history. Such is the taint now associated with it that many if the images in the article are unintentionally jarring.
The tabu surrounding the Hakenkreuz in particular is often encountered in the modelling world. The swastika is conspicuously absent from kits made or marketed in Europe (public exhibition of the design is apparently actually illegal in Germany). It either disappears from the boxart as below (should be on the tail fin):

Or is discreetly blacked out:

It's an open question as to whether or not censorship in this way actually draws attention to that which is being obscured (it does for me at any rate).

For many manufacturers the swastika is also omitted from the decal sheet as well, hence the production of specialist aftermarket sheets like the one at the top of the post to fill the gap in the market. To finish the Stuka accurately I needed to pick one up. While a necessity, I found a sheet full of Hakenkreuz a little creepy to behold.

I haven't done a lot of modelling of Luftwaffe aircraft from that era, mostly because I am not as interested in them as I am in other types, but also because I wasn't quite comfortable recreating those subjects knowing what they were used in aid of. I'm revisiting them now since I am building again some of the kits I made as a kid, for nostalgic then and now reasons.

For example, I first built this kit of the Stuka in 1984 or so. See if you can spot the difference:

As a genre, aircraft of the Axis powers form a huge part of the available kits (a larger proportion I would wager than those of comparable Allied aircraft). I can understand why a large number of kits of Japanese World War Two aircraft are out there, since the industry's biggest players (and biggest market) are Japanese, but I don't fully understand the hobby's fascination with the hardware of a not only defeated, but demonstrably evil power. There is even a sub-genre known as "Luft '46" dealing exclusively with the designs planned by the Reich toward the end of the war, most of which were never built or flown.

I find it weird, even for a hobby notable for its more than occasional eccentricity.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


So an earthquake and tsunami devastates areas of Samoa and Tonga, kills scores of people, injures more, wipes out entire villages. The tsunami is on its way to New Zealand. How do some Kiwi's react? Do they panic?

Nah, they just go to the nearest beach and wait for it to arrive (link).

Facepalm. Frankly I'm kinda embarrassed I have to share a country with these people.....