Dark Wizard

Tea Machine

I’ve just spent a week and a half off work on holiday (back to work tomorrow). I didn’t get as much figure-painting or modelling done as I’d usually like to over such a period. My house is a bit tidier though!

I did complete one model that I was looking forward to assembling – an imaginative street-vending tea machine, by Infamy Miniatures. Unfortunately, I can’t direct you to a product page, as their store is temporarily closed while they move to a new location.

As Infamy make 32mm figures, it’s a little bit oversize for 28mm, but frankly, not so much you’d really care. It’s a very crisp and detailed moulding, in a number of parts, all of which fit together nicely. As all of Infamy’s Models seem to be, it’s a bit on the pricy side, but… STEAMPUNK TEA MACHINE!

The first face of the tea machine

I still need to stick some posters in that advertising space.

The second face of the tea machine

Sadly this is a bit out of focus but, moving clockwise around the tea machine, it gives you a look at how it’s powered, and you see some counter-top detail that’s only visible from this angle.

The third face of the tea machine

Moving round clockwise again, a look at the boilers and some of the internal workings (because it’s not steampunk without sticking some gears on it).

The fourth face of the tea machine

There’s a stack each of cups and saucers at this end; the pictures I took to give a good look at them were too poor to use, but you can catch a glimpse of them here and in the previous picture.

The pigeon perching on the chimney is an integral part of the model, and I enjoyed painting it. Animals are fun to paint, and there’s a huge amount of excellent reference material only a Google away.

The chap in a pith helmet enjoying his cup of tea, and the other models appearing in these shots, are ones that I’ve had for a long time and not related to the tea machine.

Dark Wizard

Open Live Writer

Download Open Live WriterWhen I first started blogging, I used LiveJournal’s own facilities to edit my posts, but for many years now, I’ve used Windows Live Writer instead – a program created by Microsoft as part of their Live Essentials suite that just makes editing blog posts much easier, and allows me to save drafts offline before posting, as I tend to be a slow, careful writer. The single most useful thing it does is make posting pictures easy, but there are quite a number of things it just makes easier in greater or lesser ways.

However, it hasn’t been updated since 2012, when Microsoft indicated they weren’t going to develop it any further. That’s kind of OK – as a free app, it wasn’t directly making Microsoft any money so it’s difficult to complain if they decide it’s no longer worth it.

It was really disappointing, though, to think that some day I might not be able to use such a useful program because it just got left behind.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that, and people both inside and outside Microsoft campaigned to have it open-sourced, so that its development and maintenance could be picked up by enthusiasts.

Today Scott Hanselman announced that Live Writer has been open sourced, and you can download Open Live Writer immediately. It’s currently a little less capable than the old version, mainly because of third-party licensing reasons, but I expect replacement functionality will be on its way (some is definitely already planned), and that in time Open Live Writer will be an even better solution than Windows Live Writer has already been.

If you’re a blogger on Windows and don’t use it already, I’d recommend checking it out. If you’re already a Windows Live Writer user, it’s good to know there’s a new future for the application.

If you’re a developer and want to contribute, you can subscribe to the mailing list and explore it on GitHub. Scott Hanselman’s article is a good introduction.

Postscript: of course, having said that the single most useful thing it does is make posting pictures easy, Open Live Writer failed to do so for this post. Still, the original Windows Live Writer still works, I’ve filed a bug, and I’m sure it’ll get sorted out in due course.


Post-postscript: as a result of my bug report, it's already been found and fixed in development in a little over an hour, so shouldn't be too long before it's fixed in an actual release.

Dark Wizard

Dad’s Army Too

For anyone who missed it, the trailer for the forthcoming Dad’s Army movie was released a couple of weeks ago. It's due in cinemas in February.

I'm a bit cautious about the prospect of a movie, because the one with the original cast back in the 1970s was an absolute turkey. Why did so many perfectly good sitcoms of the period wind up as terrible, terrible movies? However, on the admittedly dubious grounds of a trailer it looks like this might be quite good.

Dark Wizard

Dad’s Army

I’ve taken a bit of an interest in Dad’s Army ever since I ran a short-lived roleplaying game in the 1990s in which the player characters were members of the Home Guard, dealing with mysterious happenings which turned out to be due to a burrow of Wombles rather than fifth-columnists – although one of the Wombles was blessed with the name Berlin…

This evening I went to the Byre Theatre to watch the St Andrews Play Club present their rendition of Dad’s Army. This was the opening night, and if you’re one of the local readers of this blog and fancy catching it, it’s on until Saturday. It has a running time of two hours, including the interval.

The St Andrews Play Club have put on a previous production of Dad’s Army in 2011, but I was unaware of it at the time. That consisted of a couple of TV episodes, “Mum’s Army” and “The Deadly Detachment”. The second episode there is the one you probably expect, with the U-boat crew as prisoners of war, and the oft-repeated line referring to Private Pike which I won’t spoil here just in case there’s anyone in the universe who hasn’t heard it.

So it sounds like this evening’s production was more ambitious, stretching to two TV episodes (“The Godiva Affair” and “The Deadly Attachment” again), an “episode” which was only ever performed on stage by the original cast (“The Floral Dance”) and an original piece to close by one of the society members, called “All Together Now”.

Alan Tricker as Captain Mainwaring (in the 2011 production)

The main characters were all recognisable, despite the rather odd experience of watching an unmistakably Scottish Sergeant Wilson. They were probably spoilt for choice for people to play Fraser! Captain Mainwaring and Lance Corporal Jones are probably the most demanding roles to play, as they involve not just acting but a lot of comic timing, and I’m pleased to say they carried it off admirably. Alan Tricker as Captain Mainwaring wasn’t a new Arthur Lowe, but that would be a tall order (for a short man); he didn’t have quite the level of frustrated self-importance of the original but nevertheless did a good job in the role. David Lee as Lance Corporal Jones did a great job – it was almost like watching Clive Dunn in action.

There’s a warm comfort to be had from watching something so familiar yet slightly new. The TV episodes were very familiar, of course – so much so that I was completely unfazed when rather endearingly in a moment of meta-character “”Pike” fluffed the punch line to “The Godiva Affair”, naming Mrs Fox instead of Mrs Mainwaring. For anyone previously unfamiliar with the story, I think the business probably sold what was actually meant to have been said. “The Deadly Detachment” strayed somewhat from the original in having an all-female U-boat crew, but that was cool (and played completely straight). Apart from that line, it’s not actually a favourite of mine, but I enjoyed seeing it on stage.

The two sections I was unfamiliar with both had a musical bent. “The Floral Dance” saw the platoon and other residents of Walmington-on-Sea, engaged in choir practice before an event in aid of wounded soldiers, and building up to a performance of the song named. Despite having a slightly different pedigree, it felt right. If you’re not able to see it in St. Andrews, and want an idea of what it was like, YouTube comes to the rescue – here’s audio of the original cast performing it on stage:

The final section, “All Together Now”, was a celebration of the end of the war (probably VE-day, but that wasn’t quite clear and I didn’t recognise the clip of Churchill on the radio announcement). Featuring a selection of songs culminating in White Cliffs of Dover and a tableau in which the cast were starkly lit and sprinkled with poppies. I didn’t feel it quite gelled as the scripts by Jimmy Perry and David Croft did, but again that’s a tall order, and apparently it was written at quite short notice, so good on the script writer all the same. It was more sentimental than amusing, but that’s OK – one of the strengths of Dad’s Army was that it would occasionally make it clear that, for all their ridiculousness, the characters were utterly sincere and serious about being prepared to lay down their lives to make the smallest of differences.

Worth checking out, if you can.

Dark Wizard

<I°_°I> and other tales

Electro swing is perhaps a bit misnamed – it’s a combination of 20s or 30s-style trad jazz (rather than the slightly later and smoother swing) with more modern instruments and  styles including hip hop and electronic dance music. The UK’s 2015 Eurovision entry, "Still In Love With You" by Electro Velvet was an example, though a kind of disappointing one. I was pleased it was a bit different and wanted to like it, but couldn’t convince myself and ultimately it didn’t do too well. We scored a majestic 5 points, only 360 behind the ultimate winners, Sweden.

Happily, the French do it better and msinvisfem pointed me in their direction. Caravan Palace formed about ten years ago, and have just released their third album, <I°_°I>. All three are fun and listenable, and I’d recommend checking them out. Here are their official videos, and it’s also worth skipping to the end where there’s a couple of live performance videos, including a full concert. If you like what you see, they’re currently touring and will be in the UK in December, including a date in Glasgow.

Why <I°_°I>? Watch the earlier videos to find out! But if they’re not quite your cup of tea, try <I°_°I> too, as I think the blend of old and new shifts a bit in the third album.

Caravan Palace – 2008

Suzy

Jolie Coquine

Panic – 2012

Rock It For Me

Dramophone

<I°_°I> – 2015

Comics

Mighty

Live Performances

Clash

Full Concert: Karlstor Bahnhof Heidelberg, 2009

Western gentleman

Cranes at Sunrise

The BBC used a photo of mine as one of “Your pictures of Scotland” this week. It was taken from the bus stop in Dundee on my way to work on Tuesday (sometime around 08:15), and is looking over the V&A construction site and across the Tay towards Fife. Here’s my approximation of the BBC’s crop (it was easier to reproduce it than try to steal my own picture from the BBC page):

Cranes at Sunrise (Approximation of the BBC crop)

Here’s the original:

Cranes at Sunrise (Original)

The crop gets rid of the crane on the left, which certainly makes for a better composition, but in going portrait I feel the breadth of the sunrise becomes a bit constrained.

Last time I submitted a photo to the BBC (some years ago) they just published photos “as is”, so it’s interesting to see how things have changed, and how a professional would choose to present my picture.

I generally leave my own photos untouched, unless they badly need something done or I need them for a specific purpose; they’re my memories more than art to me – and I’m not an artist, and have dodgy colour vision. Best leave well alone! However, if I were cropping it myself I would probably have gone for something like this:

Cranes at Sunrise (My own crop)

The BBC version is probably still better, because it focuses on the features of interest centre stage – I think my cropping choice suffers slightly from the additional street lights to left and right. If they weren’t there, I might prefer my version, but as it is they’re a slight distraction. Losing some of the hoarding around the V&A construction site also reduces the contrast in the photo and makes it appear a bit more washed out. I could easily have kept that by changing the proportions slightly, but I preferred to keep the original aspect ratio.

The crop is the only change made between these three versions of the picture.

I’d be interested to know which others prefer. For me, it’s probably the order in which they appear in this article, but it’s a slightly reluctant choice – I’m attached to my original with its flaws!

Western gentleman

An Epic War Is Fight!

For anyone hanging on tenterhooks as to what's on the second disk of Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, it is...

...Space 1992: Apocalypse Suite For Orchestra & Choir, featuring the Cowdenbeath Symphony Orchestra. It's an orchestral version of the album, with the tracks renamed after a quote from each (including track 9 of course, An Epic War Is Fight). It's a decent performance, and interesting to hear that it adapts so comfortably, but frankly I prefer the electric bombast of the original.

Sadly, there are no details of the composition of "the Cowdenbeath Symphony Orchestra" in the credits and the only mention I could find online was in reference to the album, but amongst the small print there was this disclaimer of which I approve:

No unicorns were harmed in the making of this album. However, 5.448 billion humans were terminally harmed in the destruction of Earth during track 10. This was an unfortunate side-effect for which we apologise profusely. Please send any complaints to the Dark Sorcerer Zargothrax at the following address: zargothrax at gloryhammer.com
Western gentleman

Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards

A thousand years have passed since the events of Tales From the Kingdom of Fife, when Zargothrax, Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty, invaded Dundee with an army of undead unicorns before eventually being imprisoned in a frozen pool of liquid ice, encasing his immortal body in a cage of eternal frost. (“Seems legit”, as the top comment under the relevant YouTube video says.)

Now, in the far distant future year of 1992, Zargothrax is released from his prison of frost by a cult of unholy chaos wizards, and Dundee and the Galactic Empire of Fife must be defended from their evil domination by King Angus McFife XIII (descendant of the original Crown Prince Angus McFife) and the eagle-riding Knights of Crail.

Yes, it’s Gloryhammer’s second album, Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards. (Buy it!)

Like the previous album, it romps joyously through a Fife-flavoured galaxy of cheese. It’s a worthy successor, but with more laser-powered hammers, chambers of cryogenetical fire, robots, cosmic rage (of Astral Dwarves from Aberdeen), and eagle-riding Space Knights of Crail.

Stylistically, it’s still HEROIC FANTASY POWER METAL (of course), but as befits a more futuristic epic, there’s a greater role for synthesisers than was previously the case.

The previous tale concluded in the ten-minute Epic Rage of Furious Thunder. This album doesn’t pull its punches either, with another 10 minute epic finale – Apocalypse 1992. I can’t express how accurately this track captures the far-off technological future of 1992 – you’ll just have to listen to it and find out for yourself.

As for me – I’m also waiting, for the physical album to arrive, so that I can find out what the disc of bonus tracks has to offer…

Western gentleman

The Cavorite Sphere

It suddenly occurred to me that a Cavorite Sphere – as developed by Mr. Cavor in H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon – is something that I did not have, and I searched for such a thing.

I discovered that there are two on the market suitable for 28mm. One is relatively easy to find mention of, but is sold in the US and doesn’t seem particularly easy to order even there.

The other I discovered via eBay, and it’s made in the UK by Richard Helliwell’s company Infinity-Engine. This is the one I bought.

I first heard of it under a fortnight ago, ordered it less than a week ago and completed it today – this may be a record! And at this point I wish I’d included a 28mm figure for reference in the picture, as I had to ask the seller for the size and I’ve made it no better for anyone finding this – but you’ll just have to take Richard’s word and mine that it’s the right size. The sphere is about 9cm across, from bumper to bumper, or about 3½” in old money.

The Cavorite Sphere on the Moon - hatch open

It’s a 38-piece resin kit, of which 32 are railway bumpers and one is the Moon’s surface (or a small part thereof). Visually, it’s based on the 1964 movie, which I re-watched parts of in preparation for painting this kit. (If you’re interested in this story, the 2010 Mark Gatiss TV Movie is also worth watching).

Having re-watched some key parts of the movie, the easiest thing to pick up visually was that the Cavorite itself was a yellowish substance painted on to white blinds. The yellow turned put to be metallic and reflective when the sphere was flying through space lit by the sun, so I could have gone for a very brassy look and it would probably have looked great. But the thing about Cavorite is that it counteracts gravity when it’s a) cool and b) exposed. If the blinds were deployed, and we had the brassy look, the sphere would probably not be – wherever it’s meant to be. It would be flying off into space. I thought about having one blind partially exposed, and maybe weathered so that the Cavorite covering is only partial, but ultimately I decided to keep it simple. No exposed Cavorite.

With my dodgy colour vision, I was less sure about the colours used for the rest of the sphere. However, the impression I wound up with was the ribs were a dark metallic colour, the panels surrounding the portholes were wooden, and the other panels of the sphere, where the blinds would be deployed were also dark in colour. I couldn’t decide whether it was a dark metallic colour or something else, but then I caught a hint that it was a dark red.

Now, this could be entirely my imagination, and if you watch the film you may see something else. As I’ve mentioned, my colour vision is dodgy, so if you see something else you’re probably right. But having seen it, real or not, I was caught up by the idea and decided that the majority of the panels were to be painted Burgundy. It’s not so far-fetched after all – burgundy was a popular colour of the period and not a million miles from the “Purple Lake” colour used for some railway carriages, so it fit in reasonably well with the railway theme of the bumpers.

The only “clever” bit of painting, as opposed to using flat colours, was for the wood panels, where I used a base coat of ochre and a wash of burnt umber to achieve a slightly textured varnished wood colour. I dry-brushed a little silver on the hard edges of the bumpers to give them a bit of wear.

You can attach the hatch open or closed. I chose not attach it at all, so I continue to have the choice. I also chose not to glue the top and bottom halves together, so that I have the option at some future date of scratch-building the interior. As you can see if you click through for the larger version of the picture, the interior is a bit ribbed – you can also see a bit of waviness on the exterior panels, although it’s not so marked. I think the body of the model was originally mastered in a 3D printer, with some details being modelled more traditionally before the whole was cast in resin; which is of course a faster way of producing multiple copies than 3D printing is, at least for now. It’s quite cool to see new technology being used in this way, and although there are detectable artefacts, I don’t think they harm this model, adding to the “hand-built” charm of the fictional sphere.

The Cavorite Sphere with the hatch closedTwo halves of the Cavorite Sphere

Finally just a brief mention for the base. Not used to getting a base in these sorts of models, it was quite nice to do so. Here it is in a photo of its own, where it doesn’t look quite so washed out in the harsh rays of the sun:

The Moon's surface

I decided that the powdery surface was pale, but under the surface – or harder bits that hadn’t weathered away – would be darker, and a combination of washes and dry-brushing in different shades of grey got me there, more or less. These highlighted most of the structure I wanted, but I did try to paint faint impact rays around the centre of the largest crater.