Sunday, December 27, 2009

The final art rolls in...

Hello there!

Thank you for your patience.

The final two pieces of vehicle art came in this week from Lee Madison, who did a very good job with both. I discovered while over at that I could not equip the Striker II with a single Artemis-enhanced LRM-10 and keep the three SRM-4 launchers standard – it would seem that if you install Artemis on one missile rack, the others on the vehicle, regardless of type, must also be equipped.

This made the Striker II overweight, so I just removed Artemis and added an additional ton of ammunition. Naturally, I had to change the writeup to reflect this. The Velite is good as it stands, so no changes were necessary.

Also, Geoff and I hammered out the Jenner writeup and Eric Ou came through with the wonderful illustration at the top of this blog entry.

All that remains of art is the possible addition of those vignettes I mentioned earlier by David Dryburgh, and to be honest, I would rather pay him up to date before asking again. I have no doubt he can do them, but I owe him about $100 and need to finish paying him and several others before moving on to actual production of the PDF.

The PDF itself – layout issues still need to be resolved, and I have not had the best of luck staying in contact with Jim Devlin. I am going to go over the existing layouts and mark the changes that must be made prior to actually sending the information Jim needs to get started.

As for that information, I’ve made significant inroads into packaging the material, but still have not gotten a mailing address from Jim for mailing the info on a CD or jump drive. I will shoot an email to him after posting this blog entry to see what can be done. Otherwise I will have to ship it to him in 25 meg snippets, and that won’t be good for him when it comes to downloading.

I am also going to take a step in the next few days towards a more thorough vetting of the existing writeups. Part of the problem is that I am correcting on the fly as I read the text on a monitor. Well and good, as far as that goes, but I have found that I actually do better work if I am reading it from a printout. Call it a hangover from the days when I would proofread my work on hobby electronics using fanfold printouts from my Commodore C-128.

Whatever the reason, I have found many styling errors, repeated phrases and words as well as other troublesome flaws when reading a printout of a single entry. So this is how it will go: I will step out and purchase a new ink cartridge for my printer, along with a ream of paper. Then I will go through and print out every single entry, including art. Punch holes in all of them, then put them in a binder. Then take the binder with me wherever I go and make the changes with pen and ink. Finally, I will enter the changes electronically and that should do it.

The art is essentially done. The edited writing is nearly so. I have to finish making payments and we can get on with the production. As you can see from the previous paragraphs, there will be plenty to do while waiting for the money to arrive, so it’s not like I will be idle. Just a few bases to touch and when the last payment goes through, we should have everything lined up.

Then it will be up to our layout man to get things together and a collaborative effort to ensure they are done right. I will keep you posted.

Taken directly from my TRO tracking sheet, I owe the following:

JP Sphagnum - $25
Lee Madison – at least $60, give or take depending on how many models he wants, if any.
David Dryburgh - $105
Jeremy Pea - $50
Ian Stead - $15

That all, so far as I know. If anyone reading this knows of an amount I owe them still, please drop me a line and tell me how much.

Thanks for stopping in.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tying up the loose ends...


I have received the final interior plate art for the TRO from David Dryburgh. It really looks nice and I have received nothing but kudos from those who’ve seen it.

I have also received a final rough for the Velite from Lee Madison. He is busy putting the finishing changes to that piece before moving to the final version of the Striker II.

Geoffrey Butler, my co-author, has finished working on the Jenner writeup and I expect to work on it Sunday evening. After his final go-over, it will be ready.

Eric has been very busy catching up on commission work, and while I am eager to see his take on the Jenner for 3063, that piece is in line and must wait its turn. I don’t seriously expect much until after Christmas.

In fact, I would be surprised to see any of these remaining pieces done before the holiday, as many folks are gearing up for their celebration. I am no different. I got a nice Christmas bonus this year – a week’s pay makes quite a difference, especially as the economy has been in the doldrums. We’re lucky our CEO saw fit to add something to the holiday paycheck. I spent it all on gifts, of course. Momma’s paycheck is coming the day before Christmas, and some of that will go to gifts and a nice dinner. I am hoping to make cookies for the family this year.

Meanwhile, the weather has warmed up and I have been out in the garage working on the TRO. Several pieces of Vlad’s art remain to be cleaned up and it is time-consuming work. Furthermore, I have been busy bundling the art with the writeups in order to make things a bit more organized for our layout man. The ‘Mechs, with the exception of the Jenner, are ready to send off as email attachments. I was thinking it might be wiser to send them on a jump drive or possibly a CD ROM, but Jim Devlin is in England and the shipping time would drag things out further. Still, I may do it anyway, in order to give him something solid to work on. It would save him the time and trouble of downloading hundreds of megabytes of information.

So for me, it’s cleaning up art and when that is done, bundling it. I had forgotten to add art to the section headers, and may do it tomorrow – nothing fancy, but it will break up the monotony of text. Furthermore, I have decided to make some changes to the print-friendly version of the layout. Some of the text needs to be black instead of white for ease of reading. Furthermore, I see no reason why the print version needs to be in anything but greyscale. Colors, even with the simplified layout, just get that much harder to look at when they are forcibly turned into a shade of grey. Better to make it all black and white and sort out the visual problems before we move on.

That’s pretty much it, folks. Sorry I couldn’t have this ready for Christmas, but if you’ve been following this blog, you know the kinds of trouble I have been having with art and so on. Let’s hope the new year brings us the remaining work (and money to pay for it). I will do my best to hammer out the rest here at home.

And before I go, apologies to PaintItPink for splashing my disappointment all over her blog's comments section. It seems the more I see of amateur (or professional) efforts to portray 'Mecha in film, video, whatever, the less patience I have with the work itself. I mean really, am I the only one on the planet that sees this stuff? And is bothered about it?

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A bit of an Update...

Hello, and thank you all for your patience.

I have been busy this past weekend putting up lights, trees and whatnot. Our shop is short a person due to holiday vacation, so when I come home it’s understandable I am somewhat bushed. Add to that a slowdown on TRO progress (why did I ever think I could get this out by Christmas?) and you have little motivation for an update that really isn’t an update.

But it is.

I talked with Lee Madison, he of the Velite and Striker II art, and he is also busy with projects, but is nearly finished with his art. David Dryburgh has not checked in for over a week, but I think he is in the same boat as Eric Ou – that is, a student at university who is now out on holidays. Nevertheless, I trust he is still working on the final interior plate.

Naturally, this enforced idleness does not sit well with me, but I have been busy just the same. However, whenever there is a lull in the action, I get out to the various websites and check to see what’s happening in the world. In my case, that includes the world of BattleTech. One of the sites I visit is, a cozy little stop where folks are creating new machines and talking over new ideas. Much of it you will find on the bigger sites, but there are always a few nuggets to be found which do not make what I refer to as the ‘big time’. One of those little gems in the rough was a ‘Mech design based on a favorite of mine, the Jenner.

The designer meant well and designed the best he knew, but has mixed elements of a close-quarters fighter with those found more appropriately on a fire-support ‘Mech. All this, packed into a 35-ton machine which is one of the odder-looking ducks of the BattleTech universe – and that is saying something.

Now, the last time I saw something like this, it was a canon design called the Vindicator. The writeup admitted that this ‘Mech was the product of compromise, and really did not excel at any one task unless it was deployed in lance strength. I did not want a Jenner consigned to the same fate, yet the design had promise. The accompanying writeup was sparse, without enough detail to determine what assignments the author had in mind for his machine. Despite repeated efforts, I have not been able to contact the original designer to get his blessing and some additional background. However, there was enough to ascertain that this ‘Mech came from a campaign, a long one, and that it had seen actual combat on the tabletop. That was enough for me and I took it to the next step.

I changed a few things around – the energy weapons, the ammunition supply, the armor and the jump jets. The rest I left alone. The result looked enough like an advance on previous iterations of the Jenner to qualify as a TRO ‘Mech, yet I already had enough ‘Mechs for the Draconis Combine and was not willing to drop an existing piece just to make room. So the new Jenner found a home in the Mercenaries section.

Yes, that’s right. I decided to add another ‘Mech. Again.

Eric quickly agreed to do a new piece of art for this machine. I have cautioned him to retain as many of the major styling cues as possible, even sending an image of the Jenner IIC to show what I mean. And Geoff? He was eager to get started on the writeup – he agreed that it was a solid design. I will have to wait until Eric has finished his other commissions and Geoff has completed the changes to his writeup to reflect its Mercenary origin, but this one is a go.

The new Jenner’s warload is impressive. It carries three MRM-10 launchers, supplied with a single ton of ammo. That is enough for eight turns of fire, plenty for a ‘Mech of this tonnage and adequate for the average game. Backing these are two medium lasers. The original design called for four jump jets, but those are most often found on in-fighters and in any case, four is not enough. The stock unit carries five and they are only moderately useful – there is little a jump of four can do that a movement of 11 (or 14) cannot, and the speed on the straighaways is key for this design. The Jenner’s tonnage does not support in-fighter missions and such an assignment would be a waste of the MRM’s range in any case. I removed them and added MASC. Some might find this questionable, given the chance of losing a hip, but in practice I have found MASC to be a hole card when it comes to getting into position for a good firing solution.

Armor is near maximum for a ‘Mech of this size, with liberal use of endo-steel and ferro fibrous plating throughout. An extra-light engine powers this new Jenner. Again, some might consider this to be a liability, but light ‘Mechs have plenty of internal space relative to the tonnage available for weapons, so it’s a necessary tradeoff. The pilot is protected by CASE. With a movement profile of 7/11(14), this baby should be able to execute ‘saber-dance’ routines with ease, its high speed granting relative immunity from enemy fire. The key is to keep moving. A stationary Jenner, even with good armor, is a sitting duck.

When the ammo runs out, the pilot retires to the rear; armed with two lasers, he can deal with anything that makes it to the backfield. By the time the enemy gets there, they are usually full of holes and ready to take internal hits – and the Jenner pilot still has his speed.

My son took a look at this design and labeled it a ‘recon/harrier’ which would be especially hard on vehicles. Funny, because the original writeup described it as being unsuitable for recon. However, I believe the speed makes it suitable for such missions and the warload would deliver quite a punch to anything met along the way.

I have had email asking about the printed version. That’s good – there is sufficient interest for me to go ahead with the initial 25-copy print run. I will have to borrow money to make it happen, but should get a modest portion of it back when I sell the remaining nine copies. I would like to do thirty copies, but do not yet have enough people shouting for it to make that worth my while. It’s at least another hundred twenty dollars, and I do not wish to borrow more than $600. I might pitch in the extra money if enough people commit to it, but so far I have not got enough emails to warrant more than the initial run.

Hopefully we will see the finished Velite and Striker II before the next update. I am crossing my fingers – but not both hands. After all, I have to pay off the artists before I can publish, and that will take a little more time.

Thank you all for being so patient with the TRO and the blog updates. Hope your shopping is stress-free and that you are getting a chance to relax before the holidays hit us.


Monday, December 07, 2009

A comment on hobbies past....


Despite the artwork at the top, this particular entry isn’t about the TRO itself. So if you came for an update, sorry.

Well, all right. David Dryburgh just shot me another update on the last interior plate and it’s coming along nicely. I love the sketch stage – it’s where the artist and I can get together and make the tweaks and changes which culminate in a finished piece. I have not heard from Lee Madison, but as you can see from the header art, he’s got some good ideas and is hard at work on them.

No, I really got on this today to kinda lay something out that has been bugging me for a while. See, when I was a teenager, a man named Don Bruce let me into his house at the top of Horizon View (in Lake Forest Park, at the top of Lake Washington, city of Seattle). That was 1978. I noticed some interesting electronic bits on his workbench and asked him if he could teach me how to make electronic gadgets too.

Long story short, he did and here I am, thirty years later wondering what happened to the hobby. I recall clearly in the mid-1990s modifying an Original Series Star Trek Communicator purchased at a Trek convention to record sound, flash lights and turn on when you flipped the antenna grid open. With a sound delay, you could order three to beam up and a voice would respond “three to beam up, aye”. People were amazed; but then, this was the era of Steve Job’s NEXT computer.

Now you have telephones that are the same size as that prop communicator. They take pictures, store reams of music, connect with the Internet and of course, make phone calls and permit texting. And for all practical purposes, they are disposable. That is, the turnover rate for these amazing powerhouses is driven by fashion more than obsolescence. I still can’t get it through my head that they are disposable technology, but I suppose it goes a long way towards explaining why one of my favorite hobbies is pretty much dead, at least as a hobby.

I don’t think you younger readers have any idea what it’s like to go to the store and pick up a copy of Popular Electronics, or Radio Electronics, or any of the plethora of other such magazines. Not that any of you would, but there it is. I can still recall slipping into a bookshop in the early 1990s to pick up a copy of RUN magazine, for the Commodore computer. I am not used to the idea of the Commodore being ‘retro’, but I suppose the ability to learn BASIC and program your own computer is quite old-fashioned. As is the notion of opening up your computer, desoldering a chip from the motherboard and installing a socket for a new chip – or even just replacing a CIA chip which blew out when a static spark fried it (the mouse for the C-128 was infamous for that). Hotrodding a computer these days is quite different from when I was a young man.

I think that is the part that really bothers me. I still get a kick out of electronics, but now the only things folks will pay cash money for are custom electronic projects for things you will never, ever see on the open market. Such as Union Class Dropships.

The question is, who will do these things when I am fifty-five?

There is no one to pick up the challenge. There is not even the desire. Industry’s capacity to manufacture more and more complex electronic gadgets on a scale which makes them as disposable as a ballpoint pen has pretty much squashed that. But the issue goes deeper. I saw an advertisement tonight for a ‘smart phone’, something which is quite common now. The trouble is, I have no idea what the hell I would do with all that functionality – and a good part of it seems dedicated to ephemeral things like social networks, pictures of things no one really cares about, and connecting to an Internet increasingly obsessed with the inconsequential. The last time I was presented with a machine that did vastly more than I needed was when I bought a PC-XT clone in Hong Kong – in 1985. I never used it, never needed a computer to do anything until 1988, when I got a Commodore C-128. That was when I began writing and programming and tinkering with electronics in earnest.

Yes, I know, BattleTech can be counted among the things of little consequence mentioned earlier. But think about it – BattleTech is one of the few places where you can find people writing actual stories, assembling and painting miniatures (and in some cases even designing them) and designing new machines on paper for the game itself. These are also hobbies I love. I am wroth to see them go. There is nothing I can do about electronics – I have friends who know more than I and have done better things, but there is no new blood, no teenagers eager to assemble a crystal radio or a metal detector or even (gasp!) a blinky box. They are pretty much gone.

So too are the model builders, the control-line flyers and other relics of the distant past. Oh sure, the boys have fun when I break out the airplanes and get those Cox engines revved up. But they are not inspired to create their own designs, to learn about air foils and where the center of gravity should be relative to the wing chord to get a balanced plane. It’s enough to see them having fun, I suppose. But check out the websites for these hobbies and you will see that most of the participants are in the 30-60 age group.

It may be that I lack the skill to pass on the spark, to infect others with my fascination and pleasure. My own father tried for decades to interest me in the outdoors and camping, and while I love to do those things, I am not inspired to take them up on my own. The tent, the camp stove, the sleeping bags – all languish in storage until the day arrives when my son is gone and I am too old to do such things on my own even if I wanted.

You know, I created that Union Class Dropship for the Catalyst Games GenCon 2007 table. It got plenty of admiring comments, and I did a good job. The company bought it from me in the end. But something bothers me. My partner on the project, Bill Burt, stenciled my name and email address prominently on the side of the table for GenCon. I eagerly awaited the people who would contact me to find out how it was done.

Not one email, folks. Not one person expressed the slightest interest in how it was done. They were impressed, certainly, but no one wanted to try something like it on their own.

I think I mind getting old because of the things I have to leave behind. There is nothing wrong with any of those hobbies – my son could, if he wanted, make a solar-powered radio in a nice cigar box and it would work as well as the one you can get in the gumball machine. But people have changed, at least on the outside. And there is no one to share my experiences.

On the one hand, I value the internet. I know how much it has changed everyone’s life, and mostly for the better. You would not be reading this blog, for instance. But I have a confession to make, and it is this – every time I see a new internet virus or threat, a tiny part of me stands up and cheers. I know what terrible things would happen if the world-wide web collapsed. But deep inside, a part of me secretly wishes the Internet *would* go away – forever.

Yeah, I know. A terrible thing to wish for, just to resurrect a few outdated hobbies. Like I said, it’s there and it’s not practical, but I see people devoting more and more of their lives to manipulating pixels and I wonder if it’s actually going anywhere. When you spend increasing amounts of your time tweeting and posting on Facebook, eventually there’s no time left to actually do stuff – and you’re left to tweet about the dreck and humdrum of a daily life which, at bottom, is really not that different from everyone else’s.

With the exception of this entry and a few digressions in the past, that’s what I have tried to avoid with this blog. It’s a place that actually serves a purpose, and will continue to do so as long as it’s needed.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ha! Christmas is Canceled!

What?! You were expecting something else? Okay, but give me another hour or so...

All right, maybe more than that... It is chore day, people. I have to wash, dry and fold all the clothes. Then I have to change fish tank water. Then it's off to shop for the groceries and put gas in the van. Not necessarily in that order.

Give me a little more time.

Meanwhile, amuse yourself watching this parody of MegaMan:

It's got robots, so, ya know? Somewhat related, except for the last part. Heh.

Okay, got all that stuff done.

I have finally established reliable contact with our layout man. He has been catching up at work, attempting to do four weeks of work in two. Not easy – I’ve tried that myself (and was unsuccessfull; only managed to get three weeks worth done).

The holidays are upon us and the shoppers are in full cry – or as full a cry as they are going to get this year. I recently received the Ocelot II from Ian Stead, his final piece for the TRO. It looks good and is at the top of this blog. Click on it for a closer look.

David is finishing up various other projects and I have decided not to bother him until I am sure his other obligations are complete. He is working on the third interior plate and (hopefully) some black and white art.

Lee Madison has the remaining two projects – the Velite and the Striker II - still in progress. Meanwhile, he has received a portion of his payment in the form of old plastic models. These are the 1/48th scale Dougram TequilaGunner and the 1/72nd scale Destroid Tomahawk, along with some 1/72nd scale military vehicles and personnel for comparison. Took a while to get there, but I am sure it was worth the wait.

And that is all we are waiting on, guys. I went through the Ocelot II writeup and tightened it a bit, introducing a Riot Control Vehicle variant which I then ported over to the Record Sheet Annex. It now waits with the others. Christmas is not canceled, but my plans to release the TRO in time for Christmas certainly are.

I have a feeling the role-players are going to enjoy this TRO, mainly because we’ve got so many vehicles that approach the thirty-meter limit and thus, begin to cross over into RPG territory. Meaning, you might actually see (or drive) a Cortez during your adventures in the Inner Sphere.

I am having a hard time setting aside money to pay off my remaining artist commissions. It’s not just the season, it’s my having to get firewood and upgrade the car’s tires and replace worn cables and crap like that. To all of you – I am going to start sending it in smaller chunks. You will get it, just not all at once.

I bid reluctant goodbye to Eric and Ian – they’ve both been good artists, especially Eric, and their work, especially Eric’s, has pretty much re-written the standard for fan-made TROs.

As for printing the TRO? Well, it seems there are a few more people than I thought waiting for a copy – or expect one for their portfolio. I did a price check and discovered that printing an extra five copies will run $566 (as opposed to $478 for 20 copies). With a bit more effort, that’s what we’ll get – and there will be enough for everyone. They will be in the same format and binding as the company TROs.

Now to get back and take a look at a few more writeups. I need to make sure I catch all the crap – it’s been a bit disturbing, going into a writeup to answer a forum question and finding an awkward phrase lurking there. Still. After all this time and all this work.