Thursday, July 26, 2012

I wonder if the human heart

I wonder if the human heart is like the weather.
Does it, in spring, blow hard by degrees,
One day hot, the next cold, damp, and grey?
Is it ever frozen by winter's sorrows, or
Cut off in its promise by a late frost or
An early storm leaving only moments;
Scrap paper and dried roses like fallen leaves?

Does it ever have the constancy of tropical summer,
Before the rain, hot and still, smothering you with
Patches of brilliantly colored air sewn into a
Crazy quilt of romance and desire, touched here
And there with thick thread of pungent fruit;
Of fish sauce and tittering laughter as we both smile
Coyly, embarrassed by our sudden shyness?

December 2011

To Luong Thi Mai Hong

Monday, April 16, 2012

Music and Miniatures

I've been involved in an online discussion lately where a group of us are trying to refight the Second World War as Japan. We represent a kinder gentler Japan. (Though one still bent on securing the resources we need for independence. And liberating East Asia from colonial oppression seems the way to go about it.) For the most part this has involved cleaning up our military, treating the locals with decency so that we can gain their support, waging a PR campaign in the United States so that the electorate there knows that we genuinely have swept away Tojo and the militaristic nationalists, and of course lots and lots of logistics. (How many c. 5" rifles can we build? How many graving docks over 600' do we have? How much steel? How much rubber? How much bauxite can we get from Indochina? How much oil from Borneo? How many additional merchant hulls will we need? How can we prevent losses? How much efficiency will we lose by instituting a convoy system? Can we afford conversions? Destroyers? Carriers? You get the idea.)

Well, in the midst of all this serious talk our esteemed Prime Minister, while talking about what to call some of our proposed special use infantry units, suggested "storm troopers" and wondered if we could get someone from Hollywood to write some theme music. Well, that was enough for the good Admiral Noka Shijin. In his academy days his friends called him "Shinfonikku Shijin." (Or Symphonic Poet if you prefer English.) So he blew the dust off some "theme music" and posted a couple of videos to YouTube featuring our fleet, and one with some trolls and goblins just for entertainment. (Should we wish to be evil and twirl our mustaches.)

Since this is falls at the very intersection of all that I try to write about here, save for the poetry, I would be quite remiss if I didn't repost it . . .

So, if you want to hear my third symphony, you can listen to the first movement on YouTube.

Since it's longer than their beblasted ten minute limit there's also a second part to said first movement.

And the mustache twirling (from a ballet I wrote for my late sister) is also available for your listening pleasure. (With orcs.)

The Composer

Monday, April 2, 2012

Anna and the King of Siam's Navy

If you follow the NavWarGames group on Yahoo you've perhaps encountered a gentleman who designs by the name Afrodi on Shapeways. One of his real specialties is underrepresented fleets: fleets like the modern Japanese and French fleets (quite significant, but sadly absent from the "major" suppliers) or The WWII era Thai fleet.

In 1941, at about the same time that the United States and Japan were really gearing up for war and the UK was slugging it out with the pesky Kriegsmarine, Thailand had a little war with Vichy France not generally remembered in the West. The larger conflict was fairly successful from the Thai perspective: they acquired several predominantly Khmer provinces, at least until the U.N. made them give them back in 1946. The war at "sea" was less auspicious. In fact, the colonial French pretty well handed the Thai fleet their fantail at the Battle of Koh Chang.

With thanks to Afrodi, the miniatures to refight this small but interesting war are now commercially available. Here you can see some of the Thai ships in both their unpainted "Frosted Untra-Detail" format and with the fiddly bits and paint I find so needful:

For the sake of scale you can see the Thai coastal defense ship Thonburi and the torpedo boat Trad alongside the Japanese Kagero class destroyer Tanikaze.

The scale is pretty well dead on. These are just some very very small ships. The colonial french sloops were bigger. (And Afrodi sells them too.) In general, I'd say the models are pretty good, though Thonburi's rifles were mere stumps. I added longer barrels and simply used the "stumps" as blast bags. If I had to guess, I'd say that it's probably not possible to form long slender objects with the Shapeways process.

Additionally, most of the Trads had three 3" inch guns, and the model is only depicted with two. Phuket seems to have lacked the amidships mount if the photos in Jane's are any indication. (I am, of course, amused that Jane's seems to intentionally misspell the name of this ship. Modern sources give the first phoneme as a Ph, but Jane's uses a P. I wonder why?) That said, I'm fairly comfortable adding guns, and the platform is there, so I just stuck another gun on and called it good. I forgot to do this on my second Trad until I started painting the ship and decided to leave it that way. (And to use it as Phuket.) At table distance no one will notice.

Being me, I found it necessary to add the scopes for the range finder and the assorted masts and spars. I can never leave well enough alone. Still, the models are fairly crisp and neither too cluttered nor too simple. All in all they'll be a nice addition to my collection and my hat is off to Afrodi for taking this project on.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

2011 Fleet Review

The fleet review last year was a bit late, as the God-Emperor of My Basement was overseas. (No constitutional monarchy, this basement. I'd like to hope the God-Emperor is an enlightened despot, but his rule is absolute and virtually unchecked within the boundaries of his empire. On the other hand, this may change since he's courting a God-Empress.)

Anyway . . .

The art depicting the fleet review is still not the best, but at least there's something. It gives you an idea of the last year's expansion:



Clockwise from the upper right int he 2011 review: The U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine, the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, the Royal Canadian Navy and Merchant Marine, the French Marine nationale, the Chinese gunboat Ning Hai, Sweedish and Norse merchant vessels, the Italian Reggio Marina, the German Kriegsmarine and M.V. St. Louis, the Imperial Japanese Nihon Kaigun and Merchant Marine, and a few harbor craft.

If you look closely you will see that there are a few unpainted ships this year. I try to have everything painted and finished in time for the review, but the expansion was dramatic enough and I was busy enough that I failed this year. Ah well, there's always next year.

At least we cleaned up the harbor enough that it doesn't look quite so miserably fouled as it did previously. The water is blue. This is an improvement, yes? If you are interested, here's some video of the review accompanied by the second movement of my first symphony: "War."

For better or worse, I hope you have enjoyed my miniature folly. Stick around and we'll see what develops. The next fleet review will be even larger and more grand, and hopefully, I'll have better art.

The Composer

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Conversions of One Model

In the same vein as previously . . .

Yet another fire sale purchase: a pair of Vestals. This is a bit of a problem as, so far as I can tell, Vestal was a singleton. But even beyond that, I was a little disappointed to find that Vestal was depicted in her 1920s guise. The ship that sat alongside Arizona at Pearl looked DRAMATICALLY different, as her entire superstructure had been scrapped and replaced in a refit just previous to the war.So following in the footsteps of the institution I'm trying to model, I cut Vestal off at deck and built up from there.

You can see that I extended the fo'c'sle deck with some rectangular stock. Small cookies cut from large cylindrical stock serves as gun tubs for fours and fives. You can glue them to the deck and then file them down to make them narrower. Slivers of scrap serve as splinter shields and the breach sections of the exposed artillery and very small cylindrical stock cut to length works for masts and barrels. More cylindrical styrene stock squashed with an appropriate size of pliers makes half decent anchor chain.

I fabricated the superstructure from rectangular stock. The center of the bridge is two pieces sandwiched together with a third laid flat on top. I filed all of this down to a suitably angular shape. and added the detached wings with two more small pieces. The center superstructure is two long pieces sandwiched together. Another two pieces placed outside them serve for the odd outboard structures.

At this point, it's rather wise to paint any approximately "interior" spaces a suitably dark color (like black). Extensive "negative" space (like an open hangar deck, say) can be virtually impossible to paint later.

Being the occasional fool, I didn't. (I've always done this before. Why oh why didn't I this time?) I still find myself trying vainly to touch up brilliant white bits that I notice in the middle of everything.

But anyway . . .

Tiny pieces of strip styrene served to bridge the void so that I could place C in C boats and launches atop them. (C in C sells several sets of detail parts in their WWI line. They're well worth the investment.) You can bend a piece of modest cylindrical stock and cut it off just at the elbow to make ventilators. Small pieces of flat styrene cut to shape can be used for Carley floats and additional ships boats. Simply painting the center black will usually suffice to make it look contoured. Additional pieces of rectangular stock can be filed into triangular shapes to serve as deckhouses. All added together, they give the ship a suitably "cluttered" appearance.

Dip it in blue paint and you have a U.S. auxiliary suitable for use in the Pacific. (Okay, I didn't really dip it in blue paint. Nor did the U.S. Navy, but sometimes it's hard to tell.)

In some ways Harry Lee was actually easier. Of course, finding another WWII auxiliary of about the same size as a ship first ordered in 1904 took some doing, but once I'd found my candidate I was pleased to note that the superstructures were similar enough that I didn't have to scrap this one. Harry Lee was about 10 feet longer and about 2,000 tons lighter, which is pretty much within the margin of error at 1:2400.

The biggest difference is the deck. The fo'c'sle deck extends all the way to the bridge. In fact, it steps up just forward of the superstructure. This had to be filled and built up with more large strip stock. Masts, armament, and deck fittings worked much as on Vestal.

The only new items were hold covers and Higgins boats. For hold covers I use large squares of thin sheet styrene. The Higgins boats, or LCVPs, are carved out of the standard rectangular blanks. I used a small chisel to cut a shallow indentation for the suggestion of the troop compartment and filed the stern into a flat triangle. They're not perfect, but at table distance they look pretty tolerable.

Thankfully, I got to paint something other than blue for a change. The MS-21 truly disappears against my "ocean" in the right lighting conditions. It makes much much better "camouflage." But it's much less pretty and not remotely as much fun to paint.

So there's my first APA.

Superior Soryu Recommissions as Katsuragi

To continue from earlier . . .

Next I'll talk a little about converting a Superior "Soryu" into the Unryu class carrier Katsuragi. The "Soryu" was another "fire-sale" purchase which was short a few pieces. Again, this isn't too serious, as I can usually fabricate what I need. This time I didn't even need to go that far, since I had a spare island from a GHQ Kaga.

First, though, some changes were needed. The number of heavy and medium AA mounts is nearly identical between Soryu and Katsuragi, but the arrangement is quite different and the stacks are a little further aft. So I removed the stacks and relevant AA mounts, carefully cutting them away with a razor saw. I reused all of them, putting them in the locations that best matched Katsuragi.

Some green two part epoxy filled gaps, cleaned up scars, and plated over the middle elevator. Lastly, I added a spare GHQ tripod mast. I've made these from blank stock, but if you have one sitting around it saves a great deal of effort.

After this it was just the radar fit and some paint. I used the usual squashed styrene for the former. For the latter I chose a late war camouflage scheme that I provides a nice contrast to all the early war grey. (I tend to shoot as close to mid 1942 as I can, but for ships sunk early or built late you just can't get there.)

Fitting Out Ships from New Builders

So for my next installment let's talk about fitting out ships from different builders. When you're running a serious navy the chances are pretty good that no single builder will make a ship you find completely satisfactory, and you'll spend some time fitting them out on your own even after delivery. (Maybe even after commissioning.)

I've talked a lot about Panzerschiffe in the past, so I will concentrate on companies that cast in metal today. I now have experience with four of these. (Well, five, really, but I'll leave the last one out, as it's a rather special case and if I ever commission their ships it will be as wreck markers.)

To wit: I've bought and built cast metal models from GHQ, C in C, Superior, and Viking Forge. All four make quite acceptable ships, though I tend to invest more work into some than others in order to make them match my mid 1942 ideal target date.

I'll start with GHQ. Scuttlebutt from experienced mariners generally has it that they make the best ships, and their models are indeed lovely. Other builders give them a run for their money in one way or another, but they're quite worthy ships. Even so, I find I need to add a few fittings. (The occasional mast or radar set, for instance.) To model USS Bunker Hill I used a GHQ "CV-10 Yorktown." I bought her from a surplus auction rather than new from the builders, so fitting out required a little more work than usual as the 5"/38 twin mounts were missing. Still, when you can save your taxpayers 75% of the cost of a capital ship, you find a way to replace those missing DP mounts.

I went a little further, though, opening up the hanger by drilling holes at the bottom of the cast on roll up door, cutting out a series of triangular sections, and then clipping/breaking/jiggering off the remaining teeth and filing away the excess to square it up. The floor was made of a piece of sheet styrene. The deck was a little thick, leaving the overhead unpleasantly low at the hangar door, so I filed the visible portion of that down as carefully as I could. You can see the result.

You'll also notice that I added a spar and homing beacon to the top of the mainmast. (Not really sure why GHQ doesn't depict those, since they include so many other fiddly bits.)

With a nice coat of MS-21 Navy blue and some deck blue stain (Apple Barrel Navy Blue and Midnight Blue, in this case) you end up with a fairly nice model. In this case I actually did base in grey, giving a somewhat brighter look than some of my other MS-21 offerings. I used a very dilute black wash to add shadows, brushed on another light coat of my primary color, and highlighted up with a variety of lighter blues and greys to give it that weathered, sun-faded look.

Making Katsuragi out of a Superior Soryu comes in the next post.