Saturday, January 30, 2010

This is what we're working on....

I’m back!

This time around I thought I would let you in on some of what I am doing with the artwork. I have finished with the text editing, putting the final touches on the Vehicles section a couple of days back.

Now I have the unenviable chore of cleaning up some of Vlad’s artwork. He did a good job, it’s just that between handling the finished pieces and scanning them at high resolution, some of the pieces are ‘muddy’, the ink having rubbed ever so slightly off onto the white areas and the pencil underlines adding to the mess.

And a mess it is. My poor laptop is kinda slow – only (!) 700mhz with about 250 megs of memory. The software I am using is quite good, but as each change is added, it begins to bog down. You know that ‘undo’ button at the top of the screen? Well, that lets you undo anything you’ve done during a session. Unfortunately, when you are working with a high-resolution (3+ megs) image, the computer saves each version of the art in memory so you can go back to an earlier version. It is something which has saved my bacon several times while doing my cleanup. Managing that while performing fill means I have to wait and wait for the computer to do its thing.

I tackled this on three different levels. First, I reduced the image density by halving the size of the image. Five megabyte files are now one meg in size, three megs become about 800k. This reduces the amount of data the computer has to work on, and store at hand, for ‘undo’. So the fill function goes quick and doesn’t bog down for ten or eleven changes.

The second thing I did was also deceptively simple: when the fill function began to slow down, I saved the image, closed it out and then reloaded it. That got rid of all the data stored by the ‘undo’ button and we were off and running with a clean memory.

Third, I transferred the image from the data stick to the desktop, so that the computer was working exclusively with the hard drive to do all its work. This last step might not make much sense until you understand that my laptop is so old, it has a 3.5 inch floppy drive and a seven-gig hard drive. And unfortunately, it also uses the 1.0 protocol for USB devices. This limits the data transfer speed. Backing up files with the laptop is a chore, and something I reserve for the home computer or my son’s laptop. Newer machines run with USB 2.0, much faster (though not FireWire by any stretch).

Images dirty and clean – Trebuchet

As you can see, there is a noticeable increase in quality with the ‘clean’ image. Click on each to get a close look at what I’m talking about.

I am using the little bucket tool, setting the color density to about 99 (no, I don’t know what that means, but it works) and filling each individual space with the color white. Set it too low and I don’t clean everything up. Set it too high and I suddenly find all my nice artwork replaced with whiteout. I have to do each panel one at a time, so it takes about an hour to clean up an image using the techniques mentioned above. Initially, several artists volunteered to clean these for me, but after a handful from each, the workload got to be either too time-consuming or just too tedious. It’s like watching paint dry. I have had no more offers, and I don’t blame them (especially David White, who is already busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest).

So it’s my job now.

Meanwhile, I have bugged our new layout man half to death with queries and suggestions and reams of information I think might be useful to his effort – creating layout for the PDF and print versions all over again. Some of you might have visited his website forum and seen what Josh is going through to make this work. I wish I could help, but as I said on the forums, the reason we relieved the original layout man was a conspicuous lack of communication. Even if he were willing to pass over to us the work he’s done, how would I get in touch with him?

Meanwhile, I tracked down and located the original artist who did the cover piece. Vlad assures me that we have permission to use that art, but I wanted to make doubly sure. Unfortunately, I have not heard from the fellow (Jan) despite repeated emails to the most recent address I could find. Wish me luck. It’s a really good piece and I offered to pay for its use.

Speaking of payments, I am sending out more money this payday after making sure I have enough to cover my bills. I will be shipping Lee his models on Monday.


We have not had a chance to do more running about and shooting due to schedule conflicts and the poor weather hereabouts. Rain, rain, go away. Stay away so I can play. However, like most hobbies, this one has other facets we can explore while the liquid sunshine has its way. One is learning to clean the barrels of our guns – even a little dirt accumulating in those tight barrels seems to have a ‘hop-up’ effect of its own, causing a straight-shooting gun to suddenly send pellets drifting to the left, the right and everywhere else but the target.

We’ve also learned that sighting a gun in with bare eyeballs is great, but that the sighting changes when you’re wearing a pair of goggles. Distortion and all that. Tomorrow evening we’ll be re-sighting the guns with our masks on so they work better on the field of battle. It kinda puts the kibosh on casual plinking, unless you want to wear the goggles everywhere.

Goggles – now there’s a topic. My son used lensed goggles for a long time. However, even back in the days when he was using a spring gun all that running about created fogged lenses, and the damp weather here did nothing to improve the situation. I put some anti-fog on the inside of the lenses, but this put the problem off and did not cure it. Taking your goggles off to wipe them every few minutes is tiresome, not to mention dangerous.

My son solved his problem by purchasing a mask with a fine mesh instead of clear plastic. No problems with that so far, although it is said that the biodegradable pellets tend to shatter and mesh will not stop the fragments. We’ve had no issues so far. I dislike the bio-degradable pellets for several reasons. One is that in humid weather they tend to gum up, jamming the barrel of the gun and sticking together in the magazine. Another is that they are seldom polished to the high tolerances required by a gun firing fifteen rounds a second. And of course, there is that fragmenting problem.

I haven’t the money to buy a new mask, so I made do with my son’s old mask. I went to Radio Shack and bought the smallest fan they had, then strapped it onto my mask at the top, where the ventilation holes reside, with a plastic zip tie. I cut some of the ventilation material away so the air would flow clearly across the inside of the clear plastic lens. I sealed the area around the bottom of the fan where it sits on top of the mask with silicone seal, so the air doesn’t leak. A nine-volt battery I duct-taped to the headband powers the whole thing and after tacking a few stray wires down, the thing turns out to be pretty sturdy.

Leaving the fan on during a game was not only annoying, it kept me from hearing small sounds in the woods – such as folks stepping on sticks or moving through brush as they were ‘sneaking’ up on you. So I left it off until the fogging began (late in the game). A few minutes of running the fan in a safe area and my lens was clear. I am told that this is a common alteration and that there are reasonably-priced masks on the market which come with a fan already installed. Maybe I will pick one up. Maybe….

Haven’t received my pistol yet – it won’t be in until Monday. I broke down and ordered that R36C in the end, using money my wife won at the local casino. Bad boy! It will be here in a week or so. Meanwhile, Bill’s G36K arrived today and he is unhappy with it – seems the 9.6 volt battery he ordered along with the gun does not, in fact, fit in the damn gun. No telling if this was a mix-up at the store, a problem which we can overcome tomorrow, or something the company knows nothing about. Or not yet. Bill is writing them to see if they have a fix. Meanwhile, he still has the stock 8.4v battery to use.

Thanks for stopping by.


Monday, January 25, 2010

New Personnel for the TRO:3063

Hey there,

The art at the top of the page is going to be a little less exciting now that the new artists are done with their labors. Nevertheless, here you are and here I am. Let’s get on with the news…

Okay. First, I am on the final group of vehicles (Periphery) for editing. This is the data entry part, mind you, not where I actually did the reading and correcting. That was last week. Anyway, there were a few pieces I had to massage further even as I entered the corrections. Now they flow easier. Some passages were awkward even after the changes, so I had to thrash them a bit more. Like my cat, you have to beat them down once in a while or they get uppity.

The art. Oh, well, there’s a piece Ian Stead is doing for me (the Merkava MkVII) that should be finished by the end of the week. Lee Madison is still working on sprucing up some computer work. I have retrieved the models he wanted from the attic (including some ones he did not request but will probably like) and will ship them soon.

As for the rest of the art, I have to continue cleaning several pieces up, one panel at a time, with the software I have right here. It is slow but at least I can do it. And this is necessary – you all have seen the clean and dirty images of the Hammerhead II that I posted a while back. This portion of the work should be done about the time the last fresh art rolls in – say, Wednesday of next week.

So that is, what, first week of February? Not bad considering the amount of money I still owe and the tremendous amount of labor this represents. However, I am still unsure that the interior art I commissioned is appropriate for a TRO. At least two of the pieces are not what you would find in an ‘official’ Readout. They are very, very good and entertaining as hell, but ‘Action ‘Mech Kill Squad’ pictures they are not.

Guess I will find out.

And now for some late-breaking news. Up until about three months ago, I was in contact with my layout man James Devlin on a regular basis. We got some prototypes nailed down and I was going through and editing what I wanted to see based on color printouts of sample pages. That’s about the time I first lost contact with James.

You can imagine my increasingly frantic attempts to get hold of him as time raced by. Better yet, don’t try. It was a sad sight. I finally got him to respond via my friend Vlad, who’d done much of the original art and had worked with James in the past. James had been sick. I lost contact with him again as he picked up the pieces at his job and soldiered on. Got contact with him again, only to be met with silence – again – as I re-sent the corrections on the layout.

Well, three times is a charm, as they say. Or in this case, a wake-up call for ol’ Steve.

I began looking for a new layout man who was capable of this type of work, familiar with the subject, experienced with producing just these kinds of fan-projects, interested in doing it and with the time available. Yes, folks, such qualifications are a very tall order. I am happy to announce that Joshua ‘Knightmare’ Kessler is now our layout man, courtesy of the folks over at:

As of last night we are going over what must be done to create layouts similar to the ones James made. All I have are the sample PDFs to go on, so that will have to do.

If anyone is wondering what kind of message I sent James, save your thoughts. I have not been graced with a response from him in nearly three weeks, so I sent what I’d been getting – that is, nothing. James Devlin is a wonderfully talented man but he has more pressing things which require his full attention and thus he has been relieved. The project carries on.

I have received quite a few donations via the PayPal button. Several were in the thirty dollar range and I have saved those emails in order to properly reserve copies of the print run. Thank you all for donating your hard-earned cash. I blush at this expression of trust in me, and will do my darndest to make sure your faith is vindicated.


We took the guns out for another run this last Saturday. The afternoon weather was all we could hope for, bright and sunny, although the wooded area we played in was still damp. A deep ravine with trails surrounding it, the playfield was a challenge as most of us had never used it before. I bagged two Franzes and a Bill, not bad for an afternoon of scrambling up hills and through water. You would not believe how slow you have to go through woods to avoid stepping on branches. I was shot numerous times – certainly not the last guy left standing in any of the four matches (but almost!).

Bill and I swapped off with the M-14, and I lost a part from the outside (along with my favorite knife) but it is indeed a very nice long-range weapon with just the iron sights. I dropped from .30 pellets to .28, mostly due to the cost of the pellets. My gun does not fire at the same insane rate as my son’s Barrett M-4 (especially with his new 9.6 volt battery!) and so I do not need Perfect BBs to do my dirty work.

Tonight I ordered an AEG pistol, a nice little number that will come in handy with the dense woods. It chronos at about 220 fps, with a firing rate of 10-15 bps on full auto. With a clip holding only 30 pellets, I will have to keep it on semi-auto until I can get some additional clips. The effective range is fifty feet, which suits me fine, as I will not be attempting long range shots with it in any case.

I will hold off on purchasing the G36K, as three guns is a bit much for how much we’re actually playing and I want to hold the money for final art payments and publishing the print version of the TRO. Bill, however, has already ordered his G36K. He was an instant convert from the SIG 550 when I demonstrated the G36K’s folding stock. He also ordered a 9.6 volt battery stick and a 40mm red dot scope. Should be interesting to see if I can nail him again like I did on Saturday. That combo will be a monster!

On the other hand, one of our players (Nate) was using a pump shotgun and he did just swell with it. He bagged four people - me, Bill, Spencer and my son in separate games, confirming what I had already suspected - that stealth and patience are just as big a part of the game as raw firepower.

Thanks for stopping by.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Editing continues...


Another late-ass blog entry, I’m afraid. But you showed up, so here we go. BTW, I are currently listening to Cascada’s ‘Evacuate the Dance Floor’. It will show up shortly on the music list for this blog. Oh hell yes. You should like it – it has a solid dance beat, tasteful vocal distortion, a short bit of good rap and it’s only three and a half minutes long. The club remix is probably a lot longer, but I have the radio edit and that will have to do for now.

It reminds me of my youth, spent as a Navy lad touring all the dance clubs the Pacific Rim had to offer (Hong Kong was the best) and picking up on personable young women by simply being less afraid to shake it than the other white boys.

If you don’t like it, you have my sympathies – just click on another song, there are several from which to choose. And I can understand if some of you have heard this one too much. I get some kinds of music rammed down my throat day after day by the radio at work. It gets to the point where I might have liked a particular song or artist at first but can no longer stand to hear them anymore. (Nickelback comes to mind).

I have finished doing pen-and-ink changes to the 107 writeups and introductions. I am now finished with entering the changes to text on the computer for ‘Mechs. And I was shocked. What was shocking? Not the time it took (plenty) or the amount of errors I found with pen in hand. Those were factored in. No, I lost my poise for a moment because I had been through each writeup at least a dozen times and was now doing simple data entry – and I was still finding stuff that needed minor rewriting. Again.

Now some of my associates assure me this is due to a perfectionism streak, or simply that when presented with text, I automatically change stuff. Neither really holds water in this case. The things I found were in serious need of repair and I did not see them until I began doing the data entry. So, you know, weird. Right? I wonder if all writers go though this sort of thing. Not much needed that additional touch, but brother, when it did, it did in spades.

Anyway, I am now onto the vehicles. I have not received word from James yet concerning the changes suggested for the layout backgrounds. This is irritating – at first I thought I sent him the information, but it developed that I had not, so I sent it, then I sent it again and asked for confirmation. Haven’t gotten it yet. Now you know why I am trying to run all the bugs out before sending everything off.

Payments are slow, as we are recovering from the spate of gift-giving (and purchasing) over the holidays like everyone else. I am going to send the next available funds to David Dryburgh, as I owe him the most money (about $105). Thanks again to those of you who are donating through the PayPal button – I am saving your emails to a special folder so I know who gave what and who gets a book. David does not have PayPal, so I have to send his moolah via money order.

What’s left? Well, that ‘dirty’ art still remains to be cleaned up, a very time-consuming process. I will get to it after I have seen to the wordage. I have commissioned Ian to re-do another tank, as the art is blah and he seems to have a good eye for CAD-produced tanks. Lee Madison is still plugging away at adding background for some of the CAD pieces – I should have his models off in the mail by Friday, with a few extra thrown in because he has been so patient.

I gave him a hard time (sorry Lee!) about one model he requested – it’s an original Aurora production of the AH-65 Cheyenne, an experimental job which, despite missing the main rotors (!) is still as hard to find as hen’s teeth. But I have an additional helicopter model whose rotors will do just fine as replacements (there is a fellow online who did the conversion, so I know it will work). I will send all of it just because Lee is so kind, hard-working and patient with me. And because I do not want a visit from a pissed-off Texas wolf… ;)

Airsoft and like that…

I got a chance to do some Airsofting (is that a word? Am I verbing again?) this weekend with my son and his friends. We gamed between the rain showers over at a local school. My modified M-14 with .30 pellets worked very well, picking opponents off left and right. My son doubted that I would be able to ‘keep up’, but I reminded him that age and treachery will always trump youthful vigor. He didn’t believe my practice with iron sights was of any use either, until I aced two of our foes from the cover of a small strip of woods over to one side of our playing area.

Of course, the youngsters were quick to try that new tactic, but my son soon found that working your way through the woods was a task left to more patient players. One fellow (Spencer) tried it to get the drop on me, but did not realize until too late that just because he could see me did not mean he had a clear shot. Spencer stood in the woods, frustrated, while I schlepped about untouched. After the match I pointed out that he had to use the clearings around bigger trees to line up on other players. You can’t shoot through brush, after all.

That said, my nine-pound M-14 got to be pretty heavy after a few hours of play. I was almost (almost!) relieved when the battery finally died and I had to stand down. I went home and contacted another BattleTech friend, Bill Burt, telling him what good exercise the game was. He is overweight too, but was once a crack paintball player and was so interested in getting out to, as he puts it, ‘shoot people in the ass’ that he came over the next day and we spent hours drooling over guns on the Internet.

There’s a nice little number down at the local shop, a SIG –550 something which has autofire and a nice long barrel for sniping. It also has a bipod, something we oldsters will appreciate late in the game. They want $238 for it, but we found several on the Web for about $125. I am all about supporting my local business, but not with that kind of markup. I will probably set aside $138 for that gun soon. Looks like it will use .25 pellets, and at least the local shop doesn’t charge too much for them. Not yet, anyway. The P-90 they have is nice, too. A great little backup gun, effectively a very high-powered machine pistol. The magazine is rather small, though they have bigger magazines available for it.

It is a very good sign that Bill’s wife has not said no, probably as she wants him to get back in shape. Meanwhile, I am wondering how long we will be welcome at the school with all those pellets lying about after our games. However, there is a place down behind the local hardware store which is mostly heavy pine forest and intermittent brush with lots of open ground and fallen trees. Paintballers used to go up there and blast away, and I spent several hours playing Lasertag in that location, so I may ferry the boys over there one day soon to see what it looks like.

One more word.

I was taking my son and his friend Nate down to the mall after the game. They’d had a chance to clean up and put on some stylin’ clothes, and I called Nate’s mother to let her know where her son would be. She was surprised to hear I had been running with the boys, and said that Nate often wished his dad (divorced) would go out with him like that. Appears I am on the right track, so long as I don’t succumb to technolust.

See, the other boys were also equipped with autofire Airsoft guns that day. However, it seems my range and speed apparently exceeded what they were used to, mostly Thompson submachine guns. They could not believe how long the M-14 rifle was compared to their own weapons, and combined with a slower rate of fire, is possibly why they didn’t make too much of a fuss. I’ve been warned by this, though. It is very easy to get gear that is too good for the local players, so I am backing off and working with stock equipment in the future.

I want to be welcome when they play again. I am their guest, after all.

Thanks for stopping by.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Additional Art and My Son is growing... :-\

Well, then.

Here you are. I suppose that means you survived the holidays. Or you are a holiday zombie. Either way, good for you! Holiday survivor, holiday undead – both are filled with possibilities.

The blog entry for this last week is tragically late. For that I humbly apologize. Things have been happening, but I have to pay mind to the jorb and upgrade my Airsoft toy…. er, rifle. And hang out with the boy – even though he has finally overtopped me and towers over his revered mother. He will be leaving home in a few years to make his way in the big world.

Later on that.

I took the printout idea for action. Bought an ink cartridge down at the local office supply shop, along with a ream of paper. Printed out all the text, the introductions, the index, and each entry along with its attendant image. Took me a few days to do that, and when I was done, I mounted it all in a binder and began working on the editing.

Some entries were pretty good, requiring a change or two. I think that of the 107 entries, only three were fine as they were. Most needed some tweaking…. little stuff like using the same word twice within a few sentences, a non-starter if ever I saw one. Then there were whole paragraphs that were awkwardly phrased. Finally, there were bits, not many, which violated one of the unwritten rules of writing (weird phrase, that). Namely, don’t tell your audience how they should feel about a particular statement or development or whatever. There is a subtle difference between stating that Comstar scribes found ‘something extremely interesting about World X’ and saying that the Comstar scribes ‘were extremely interested in the information coming in about World X’.

Take another look at that last sentence. Do you see the difference? One says that the author thinks you should find that information about World X interesting. The other tells you that the scribes were interested in World X… and nothing more. No one likes being told how he or she should feel. Of course, I corrected the offending text in a hurry.

One of the art pieces I received from Eric Ou was the Nightsky BattleMech, and I was happy to get it at a reduced price (he had made it and had no purpose for it outside of practice). I didn’t dare say that it was not very attractive – after all, it replaced an illustration that was a mish-mash of two other Company pieces. It was a definite step up. However, recently (and on his own) Eric decided the piece was not in fact his best effort and replaced it with something rather better. A little narrow in the waist, but I have had my say and Eric does what he does to good effect, so again I am in no position to complain. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another good sign was that I received an email from our layout man, James Devlin, with an address where I could mail the CD/DVD with this TRO’s information. That will happen in a week or so, after I clean up the last pieces of art (painstaking, time-consuming work) and enter the changes I made in the text to my little laptop. I have to back it all up again, but carrying a spare jumpdrive helps (a Christmas gift from my son).

Jumpdrives are wonderful things, but you never know when they are going to fall prey to a static spark or when you will accidentally delete a file – or lose the damned thing altogether. I have had to train myself to do these backups – as with hitting the save button when writing these blog entries, it’s nice to have the information saved if the computer takes a crap mid-sentence.

So. The editing is on track, the art is about half paid-for, only some cleanup and text entry and I will be ready to ship it to the layout man. That pretty much sums it up. Oh, and I will have to hammer out the final changes to the online and print layout backgrounds. A few hours and some emails should take care of that.

I am sitting in the garage, smoking a good cigar and drinking a strong cup of coffee on a Friday night. The work week is over and Momma got paid today. I settled a few bills, enough to keep the lights on and the water running, and I have enough left over to buy and install a precision barrel in my Airsoft rifle. I bought the boy an M4 Barrett for Christmas – blew my Christmas bonus on it, as he has wanted one for a very long time. I upgraded the barrel, the sight and the battery, and he’s a happy kid.

However, he passed on the last two BattleTech games.

He’s growing to be a man with interests of his own. I figured, well, if he has been following me faithfully all these years in my hobbies, the least I could do was follow him in one of his. So I bought an inexpensive M-14, the full-length rifle (not the SOCOM carbine) and upgraded the spring to an M-120. It shoots like a dream. I have never lost my touch with firearms and shoot better with the M-14’s iron sights than my son does with his high-powered dot sight. Five soda cans knocked over with seven shots at fifty feet – his best was nine shots. It’s a secret relief that Dad still has an edge over the Boy in some areas – for now. Oh, and I can still beat him in arm-wrestling, though with my game shoulder it is a close thing.

He is fourteen and still growing taller and stronger. There is nothing stranger than watching your own son grow up, believe me. I glance over at the picture on the bookcase. It’s one of me grinning like a fool while holding a tiny, wriggling cutie pie in my arms. Then I look over at the fellow playing Halo III in the living room and realize with a bit of disbelief that they are the same person. I used to drop my arm across his shoulders, then the day came when I stood tall in my socked feet and looked him in the eye. Now I look him right in the nostrils, and it’s going to get worse. Or better, depending on how I feel each morning.

I think the first intimation that this day would come was when we were playing Super Smash Brothers on the N-64. He was ten. Up until that day, I would play Pikachu exclusively and beat my son soundly. That day, he selected Pikachu as well and trounced me. Three times. I stopped playing the game after that, profoundly disturbed but not sure why. He felt bad about my not playing with him anymore – and if I had it to do over, I would have kept on playing. But don’t we all wish we could take a trip back in time?

I will get sore muscles and tweaked knees running around the woods shooting people. And getting shot. But as I approach the age of 50, my son and I will be together again, and this time I will not quit. It’s not too late after all.

Thanks for stopping by.


{I just accompanied him to those woods today, in fact. Thirty five degree hills, slippery crap everywhere, hundred-foot ascents (and muddy, sliding descents) with my knee aching just getting in there. He wasn't even winded. Damn. Anyway, they also have occasional 'tactical' games over at the local school on the weekends. Flat ground, more to my taste and ability. So he lets me know when that goes down, and I loan my M-14 to his friend for when they fight it out in the boondocks.

Oh, and wouldn't you know it? The shop simply doesn't have a precision barrel for the M-14, which has a unique collar on the end to keep the hop-up unit in place. So now I am using .30 Perfect pellets and with a bit of hop, they are pretty darned accurate.}