Beep Built by Saturday (and the Hobby Expo)

Next Saturday is the Hobby Expo, the first big contest of the year, held by IPMS/Santa Rosa and IPMS/Mt. Diablo up in Petaluma. It’s always a good show, and by having half of the building devoted to models and half devoted to other hobbies, you get some great cross-pollination. A lot of guys whose wives do some type of craft wander over and are blown away by the models, which can lead directly to new members and new modelers. It’s a really great idea, and the facility, with its naturally bifurcated layout, lends itself to this perfectly.

I plan on having the WC-51 “Beep” done by then. It’ll take a bit of a push, but I will finish it. See, I don’t build for competition, but I DO build for contests. Those events provide deadlines in a hobby where there really are none; that can mean the difference between a model being completed or going in a box waiting for precious inspiration to strike again. It also means clearing the deck for the next project – in my case, perhaps an F-106 for a bit of a change of pace.

The competition part is fun – I always like seeing how things shake out – but I really like the contest. They’re two different things. One is how the models are evaluated by the judges and the other is the event itself. One is a subset of the other. The competition can be variable; there was one year where Vladimir Yakubov and I alternated firsts in a category all year, showing how different judges can reach different conclusions. The contests are constant – I always have a good time, even when the contest isn’t really well run.

Looking at models, doing some shopping, hanging out with friends – that’s fun. Getting an award? That would be a bonus.

Back to work, now…

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An awesome nationals – followed by the usual stupid complaining

I’m back from the nationals, and I can report that it was a fun show that was remarkably smoothly run by the guys from Phoenix. There were virtually no hiccups to be seen on their part, and as a result there was very little drama other than as a result of the contest.

A lot has been written about the show, and a lot of photos can be seen in the gallery section of the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers’ website  including almost every entered model. That’s a lot of photos! The people section shows many of the club’s members at their finest (I mean, in the bar), and the winner’s presentation from the banquet is there, even, so you can find out who won. This was the result of the hard work of John Heck and Vladimir Yakubov, who made sure the “slide show” went without an error. It was truly a smooth show.

There’s a lot of good things to said about this year’s nationals. From the tenor of some of the conversations on Hyperscale, ARC and other on-line sites, there’s also a lot of bad things to be said – criticism, indictments, suggestions posed out of ignorance, and outright falsehoods. It’s especially galling when people rip the show and weren’t even there. (I won’t dignify these morons with links to their posts; that would only give them the attention they hoped for when they launched into their antics.) For instance, over on Hyperscale some yokel tried to take the IPMS to task for not having results and photos up the night of the awards banquet. There are always angry rantings about some model or another that did not win, always posted by someone who has never judged anything, let alone the model in question. And there are oodles of suggestions that the “suggester” is sure that the IPMS will never take because the officers are aloof, arrogant and dictatorial. When you read them, you realize they’d never be employed because they would set in motion a series of unintended consequences that would lead to significant damage to the event.

The thing about the Internet is that it gives everyone a soapbox. It does not require them to do the research needed to inform their comments before they ascend that soapbox, nor does it require them to be intellectually honest. Even in the afterglow of this very successful nationals, I’ve seen the usual suspects take minute, supposedly negative details (like the length of the banquet – which timed in at a very reasonable 2 hours and 5 minutes this year) and use them to attack the elected officers. This sort of spiteful, stupid behavior is where the impression of the “IPMS attitude” of years gone by has its roots. Just think how it looks to non-members: even after an event that gets everything right, by all accounts, there is still a loud mini-minority carping about anything they can find to carp about.

Here’s my promise: if I see any of this behavior, I’m not going to allow those malcontent morons to become the de facto spokesmen for the IPMS. They’re going to get it right back, couched in facts and backed up with statistics. If you’re an IPMS member, I hope you do the same. I’ve had enough of the nitwit, crybaby, criticizing, know-nothing, do-nothing numbskulls trying to rain on our parade at every turn. Enough’s enough.

Except when it comes to shows like this year’s nationals. Enough was not enough – that show could have gone on for two weeks and every moment still would have been fun. Thanks to Steve Collins, Dick Christ, Mike Reeves, Jim Clark, Paul Bradley and the many other members of the organizing board. Remember, guys – if you see me on an Internet forum badgering some snarky naysayer in the next two weeks, I’m doing it for you!

How contests make model building more fun

I made a post today on Hyperscale about building vs. building for contests. My point was not that you build differently for contests; my point was that, once you understand contests and how they’re judged, and the criteria and the reasons for criteria, you start integrating that into your methods of building.

To some people, that’s a chicken-and-egg thing: which came first, the contest or the way you build that could win you a contest? Let’s say that the first chicken is your very first model; if you’re like most people, you try to improve with each passing model. When you get to the age and stage where you’re entering contests, each contest is a chance to learn new things that can enhance your future models.

I don’t enter contests to win, although I get the odd plaque. I build the models, then enter contests. But you can’t help but be influenced by what you learn. If you judge, you’ll learn more and be influenced more, and, on the whole, win more.

But winning’s not a big deal to me. What I really like is building a realistic, solid model. Judging allows me to spot where most people screw up, which then gives me a set of mental road signs for hazards to watch out for: misaligned landing gear, wings, horizontal surfaces, external stores and sliding canopies; small glue marks around joints; inconsistencies in panel lines; overstressed seams; blemishes in clear parts; decal silvering. My judging experience causes me to pay particular attention to these trouble spots as they occur in the build, which may not lead to contest winners but definitely leads to better models.

The other thing I always tell people is to build the whole model. Don’t get hung up on the part that you enjoy especially (mine’s the cockpit), but devote the same attention to the rest of the build, especially the parts you dislike. You’ll get a better finished model; it also builds some character. And if you belong to a model club, you know how many characters there are in this hobby.

The worst thing you can do is to base your hobby around the number of trophies you win. While contest wins are fun, they aren’t the measure of what you get out of scale modeling – they’re the measure of what a few of your peers thought of how your model stacked up against the other models in the table on a particular Saturday or Sunday. The real measure is in the pleasure you received from building them and from the finished result – and that’s something a model can give you regardless of your skill level.

Contests, New Kits and the Economy

On Friday, I went to the Fremont Hornets meeting – which is always fun. This IPMS club has been at this for a long time – not 46 years, like the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers (who existed before there even was such a thing as Silicon Valley) but long enough to have started out as an affiliate of IPMS Canada. The club is doing a couple of group builds – F-16s and Spitfires. I missed the previous meeting and I was unaware of this – I may have to switch projects to get a Lawn Dart or a Spit ready for October!

In any event, the club’s not having a contest this year, for reasons that re rather topical. The club got the venue it was using, the Newark Community Center for free – pretty remarkable, actually. That was until this year, when municipal budget cuts caused the center to be closed for most events, and it was certainly no longer free. There are plans in the works for a 2011 show, and I expect the club will execute on those plans, but 2010 is a tough year for model contests. We’re beholden to the economy – contests can be expensive to travel to – and even the largest contest in Northern California suffered a 20 percent drop in attendance, as did the Seattle Spring Show, which is easily the biggest contest on the west coast.

Contrast that with all the new models announced at the Shizuoka Hobby Show – and there were plenty of them, especially in 1:32 and 1:72 aircraft. There’s a correlation, I think – the economy is keeping people at home, but they’re still buying and building models. And why not – modeling is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, and you can practice it at home. So, what I suspect is happening is that people are foregoing contests but are still working away on models.

My prediction is that when the economy recovers, we’re going to see some really big contests, with more attendees and attendees with more models, since they’ll have a couple of years worth of entries saved up and ready to show.

That’s my guess, at least. Do you have any guesses of your own?

Thoughts on Bidding for the IPMS Nationals, or “Hey, haven’t I fallen off this cliff before?”

Every week, a bunch of us modelers meets up at D&J Hobby in Campbell, then after the shop closes at 9 p.m. head over to the Mini Gourmet, one of the few all-night diners in San Jose. The crew is made up of some regulars – Laramie Wright, Randy Ray, Woody Yeung, Mick Burton, Mike Meek, Vladimir Yakubov, John Heck, Greg Plummer – and some occasional guests, including Roy Sutherland, Barry Bauer and Frank Babbitt. We’re so consistent that visitors to the Bay Area come and hang out with us on occasion.

Last night, the discussion was an interesting one. John and Vladimir are seriously discussing the idea of bidding for the IPMS/USA Nationals, either for 2012 or for some year in the future. Having served as the chairman of the 1998 event in Santa Clara, I’m a walking reference for them on what to do and what to avoid. What to avoid: the Fourth of July weekend; badly-written contracts; members of the committee who don’t do their jobs. What to do: pick the right people for key roles; put together good seminars; do as much as you can as early as possible. Nothing to it, right?

Well, not quite. Although John couldn’t quite envision it, the planning process is a lot of work. The first stop has to be the facility – if either Santa Clara or the San Jose Convention Center can’t offer a decent rate, the whole effort is stillborn.

However, it would be fun to be part of hosting the nationals again. When I chaired, I did a bunch of things, including ordering the hats, designing the T-shirts, editing and laying out the program, researching the decals for the AeroMaster sheet, and coordinating all the efforts. Mike Braun was a great vendor chairman, and the team from San Joaquin Scale Modelers (at the time, the Stockton Tomcats) provided security. We suffered around the contest and the trophies, so if we do it again it’ll be important to pick good people for that role.

Of course, at the end of the 1998 show, we were all completely exhausted, physically and mentally. The process speeds up rapidly in the 30 days leading up to the show, and you become very busy (that was the only nationals I’ve ever been to where I didn’t buy anything in the vendor room – I never had the time!). We’ll see where this all goes. It would enable me to build some bug subjects and get them safely to the nationals – but it seems like an extreme way to facilitate that!

Miscellaneous model musings

Last Sunday I took the P-47, the P-40 and the F-4B to the Silver Wings contest in Sacramento and got skunked. My wife’s comment: “well, you should have expected that – they hate you up there!” I don’t think that’s totally accurate, but it was funny, and since I really didn’t care whether I won anything it did make me laugh.

I never do well at that show; part of it’s because the judging is administered in a somewhat loosey-goosey manner when it comes to applying the IPMS criteria, so the results are less than predictable. I was trying to do something about that as regional coordinator (one of my roles within the International Plastic Modelers Society), but then it was made abundantly clear that the powers that be were not committed to the idea of the criteria being used at the local level on a consistent basis. In Region 9, which is Northern California and Nevada, we’ve stuck to the criteria and the result is very few disputes over contest results. But that’s been a region-driven thing – we have almost no clubs who assume they know better than the rest of us.

To keep things consistent, the F-4B broke again – this time, a nose wheel fell off – but this was an easy fix this time. I picked up the Quickboost set of Japanese type 98 gunsights (which will soon be appearing in my A6M2b) and won a Hasegawa P-40E in the raffle, which will probably become a donor kit in a P-40L build someday.

I also got the Supercale sheet with “The Prodigal Son” on it; I already have the AeroMaster sheet. The differences are striking – on one, the nose art is black with a thick red surround, while on the other the art is red with a narrow black surround. On one the digits in the serial are close together, and they’re farther apart on the other. Luckily, I have a photo of this plane, from Steve Blake’s The Pioneer Mustang Group: the 354th Fighter Group in World War II. For this Mustang, here’s the verdict: AeroMaster’s nose art gets the shape of the nose art correct to a far greater degree than the SuperScale sheet. The codes on the SuperScale sheet have the stencil breaks on the wrong side of the “A” in the squadron code; the AeroMaster codes are a little skinny, but not by much. I feel very reassured than my Mustang will be as accurate as it could reasonably be – once it’s built.

When I came home from the contest, I went to work on the P-51D, and found that my work to remove the panel lines on the wings had not been totally complete. There were some small pits – actually, small stretches of panel lines that had not been filled – and I addressed them, then shot some non-buffing aluminum mixed with a bit of flat gray on the wing. That color replicates the aluminum lacquer paint used on Mustang wings. It kept revealing glue marks, blemishes and surface irregularities; I have the problems now isolated to the quarter inch at each wing root, but I’ll probably strip the whole wing in the process of cleaning things up.

More than half of the planes I’ve built in the last four years have been natural metal jobs. It really is a hassle to get these things prepped for painting, and my choice of schemes does not help. The Zero, with its one-color non-metal scheme, is looking more and more attractive all the time…

Model judging: why 1-2-3 works best at the nationals

The IPMS/USA National Convention and Contest approaches – it’s August 19 to 22 in Columbus, Ohio. The show is getting better organized every year, and we members are the beneficiaries of that. Still, some people are not yet fully satisfied. Over on the IPMS/USA  members’ forum, there’s a debate that’s raged on and off for several years over the topic of judging – or, more accurately, over the organization of model contests and how awards are presented. I’ll synopsize it briefly:

Most IPMS contests are run on a 1-2-3 basis. That means that the hosts have a set number of categories, and the judges select the top three in each.

Some organizations (AMPS, most notably) have a gold-silver-bronze system. Each entrant is evaluated against a set of criteria and if it achieves a certain standard it is given the corresponding award – or no award, if it fails to meet the standard.

Both systems are totally valid, and organizers are entitled to employ any system they choose for local shows. However, I am strongly in favor of keeping 1-2-3 at the nationals, for several reasons. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll state my case.

First, the nationals are big – 3000 models big. Judging a category in such a show with 1-2-3 involves a pass through the category to eliminate models with major flaws, then a second elimination pass, then close examination of the survivors. In reasonable time, the teams get down to five or six contenders, then start really poring over them to determine the final ranking. It’s actually pretty simple if you run your team in a business-like fashion.

Using gold-silver-bronze in such a show would be very difficult. Many more models would be subject to that last-six scrutiny, which would draw the process out. Currently, judging takes about four to five hours at the nationals; I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the show to have the judges on duty for much longer than that if only because people will stop volunteering to judge. Also, you want to keep the display room open as much as possible, and drawing out judging works against that.

AMPS is often used as an example of how this might work: entrants bring in their models and leave them at the judges’ table, where they are evaluated and then transported to the display tables by the judges. However, AMPS draws about 15 percent of the models as the IPMS/USA nationals – meaning you’d need many more judges, and you’d need them on duty at all times during the times entry was permitted. Also, the idea of the crush of people bringing their models in on the first day and on Friday, and the backup at the judges’ table, is awful to think about. (During a previous debate over this topic, Cookie Sewell, the former AMPS honcho and a veteran IPMS judges, said the AMPS-style of judging would not work at the IPMS event for reasons of scale. I take Cookie’s word on this as perhaps the best educated in the entire debate.)

1-2-3 is also pretty easy to execute on; there’s a judges handbook, and every discipline has a general approach to evaluating workmanship. Implementing gold-silver-bronze would require a new set of criteria to be drawn up, and few have asserted a good way to approach this. At the very minimum, this would require a lot of time, effort and education of the judges. The suggestion of some that it could be based on “points” is a bit scary to me, since that tends to downplay very major flaws and keeps in contention models that would otherwise fail to be in consideration. For instance, let’s say that a 40-point system mandates that general seam work and construction is worth 10 points, painting and finishing 10, alignment 10, decals 5, and clear parts 5. A model could have horrendous glue fingerprints all over the canopy and still lose just five points. In 1-2-3, that model would be set aside from contention immediately. Also, a clever builder could figure out models that don’t have things like clear parts (RQ-1 Predator, for example) and thus get rewarded for work not done.

1-2-3 is rather easy for the host club to plan for – get trophies for the planned categories, and you’re done. With gold-silver-bronze, there’s really no way to estimate what you’d need for your awards – it would be contingent on the number of entrants and the quality of those entrants. I’ve heard arguments that the hosts could then limit the number of golds, silvers and bronzes handed out – but doesn’t that fly in the face of the basic notion of that judging approach?

Finally, the advocates of this system contend that it would increase the number of people entering the contest because it would spread more awards around. There are three basic flaws to this contention: first, there’s no guarantee that any awards would be presented – there could very well be fewer awards presented, and if the argument is that people enter only because they want to win something, then gold-silver-bronze would work against the stated goal. Second, the contest at the national convention is not the only reason people go to the event; I contend that going to hunt trophies is exactly the wrong reason to go to the IPMS Nationals. Finally, three of the four largest IPMS/USA National contests have come in the last four years, so the idea that the contest format is harming attendance seems utterly unsupported by the evidence.

I also happen to like 1-2-3. As in life, 50 percent of the national contest is about showing up. The categories allow the IPMS to express things it values – like vacuform models, scratchbuilds and other off-the-beaten-path modeling areas. (I still keep meaning to build a 1:72 airliner so I can support one of my favorite smaller categories!) And it is fun to see what finishes in the top three on any given Saturday; because human beings are doing the judging, that may change from week to week, and healthy competitors understand that and value their awards (or lack thereof) appropriately.

Those are my well-reasoned arguments for 1-2-3 vs. gold-silver-bronze. The other issue I have with efforts to change judging – a style of judging that’s been refined over 35 years, by the way – is that all too often it those efforts are led by people whose motivation is that they do not win. In my region, there’s a modeler who loves detailing interiors but whose exterior craftsmanship is fairly shoddy (no, I am not speaking about myself here, thank you!). Not long ago, he started agitating for greater weight in judging to be placed on extra detail work. At a contest where he was head judge, I had to step in during the judges’ meeting and stop him from instructing the judges to give greater weight to detailing; that’s simply not how you judge at a contest in my region. But his reasons for wanting a change were transparent and self-serving, and I fear that some of the advocates for gold-silver-bronze are similarly self-serving and feel they come in fourth in over-sized categories (which, again, shows a failure to understand the organization of the national shows; when a 400-model category is split into 10 subcategories, you’re still getting a fair shake).

I’m not arguing from the position of someone that 1-2-3 has benefitted; in 14 years I have taken one award, a second in small composition diorama for a project that I finished in two days! (Vladimir Yakubov was kind enough to let me know that a V-1 I built came in fourth a few years ago – he judged the category, and it would have taken some hardware except that I forgot to paint inside the jet pipe! You’d think I’d be a big fan of gold-silver-bronze under such circumstances!)

I have the dubious privilege of coming at this issue as a former IPMS/USA Nationals chairman (I bid for it when I was 29 years old – what an idiot!) and I understand you have to balance out what’s fair in the contest with what’s fair for the judges and what’s fair for the organizers. Too many advocates of gold-silver-bronze dismiss legitimate logistical concerns like awards, the development of a set of standards and the methods of organizing manpower for judging as something to be worked out later, or perhaps explored by using gold-silver-bronze at a regional as an experiment (I’d hate for that to be my regional!). These are not workable methods for proving a point, let alone instituting a major and potentially highly disruptive change to the system – a system which, by the way, works rather well the way it is.

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