Sunday, October 10, 2010

Progress and some Reminiscing...


We are working on the writing as well as finishing up commission work.

- Daniel Cherng has given up his commission on the Draconis Combine’s Katana and I will pass it to Stephen Huda pending more money and his completion of the Pershing A-57.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Pershing A-57, as can be seen above.

- Karl Olson is working on the Taurian Concordat’s Auroch (formerly the Damocles) Infantry Fighting Vehicle. We have moved into the third draft as can be seen below:

- Ian has requested another round of suggestions for his draft of the Tomahawk. *Sigh*.

- Eric is busy with school work – he is going to pass the Werewolf commission on to Stephen Huda.

- Paul has completed editing all but two of the Capellan vehicle writeups.

- Geoff is working on filling in the gaps left by tighter editing of those writeups.

- Eric has come up with a template for our PDF, but we are still working the bugs out.

- Bill has ordered a copy of InDesign CS3 for Dummies; it was cheap off Amazon and should arrive in the next few days. It boils the process down and should go a long way towards Bill’s understanding and ability to work with InDesign. I am hoping to get a copy of InDesign for myself so I can help Bill.

- I am still saving and budgeting for the remainder of my wife’s dental work. It should be done by the end of this month. The art payments will resume after that.

- The following is a list of the people I owe money for art:

Interior plates - $70 remaining to David Dryburgh
Werewolf - $25 remaining to Eric Ou
Nemera – $30 remaining to Chris Seymour
Panzer X, San Ku Chu, Auroch, Centaurus - $60 left to pay to Karl Olson
Pershing - $30 remaining to Stephen Huda
Tomahawk – $25 left to Ian Stead
Seven internal color renders - $48 remaining to Terrance Wong

This is a total of $288. We’ll get there.

Old Dreams

A long time ago I was a member of a Star Trek club in the Seattle area. Or rather, I built things for them. I had been doing this for about six years, in Seattle, Hawaii and San Diego. My conclusion was that the fans wanted fancy stuff, but didn’t want to pay what it cost to make the things – never mind the labor or even a profit. Even in 1994, electronics were seen as disposable and the average fan didn’t want to pay top dollar for a Playmates Next Generation Tricorder which had been heavily modified to look like the real thing.

There were others like me, but they were fans and many of them were much more knowledgeable and skilled in electronics and building costume props. One of them was Dave Pinney, who built a sliding door that was powered by pneumatics and triggered by a pressure pad. He also built a console, Next Generation style, complete with graphics and a chair. The console was powered by pneumatics and swung out and in based on a signal from the seat. Here are a few pictures of his creation:


The graphics were printed on paper and sandwiched between two layers of glass. They were backlit by a string of white Christmas lights inside the console. Pretty clever! I told him I thought it would be great if the console actually did something. So – I devised a way of detecting the touch of a finger to the glass (via reflected IR) which filtered out florescent light flicker.

After substantial testing on the workbench, David refined my design and built a working prototype. I built the main circuit board based on that prototype. It cost over a hundred bucks just in parts. With its ten switches, we could have controlled a lot of stuff from that console. But ST fandom suffered a major collapse after the Next Generation show went off the air and the console was disassembled.

I tried to get it built about ten years later, in 2005. I had the console (still!) but no glass and someone else had the base and chair. And they were not going to pay me for my work, or fund the remaining electronics, and they were not going to give up their half of the project. It was the same old story – you pay for and build everything, Steve, and we’ll pat you on the back and play with it until it breaks. My half of the console eventually ended up in a Kitsap landfill, but I could not bear to part with the circuit board and its many unused components. As you can see, it represents a lot of work:

Each circuit was assembled by hand. The infrared sensors had to be proof against the flicker from flourescent lights and the random IR bouncing around out there, so we took the IR signal and fed it into a 741 Op Amp configured as a Schmitt trigger. Suitably cleaned up, the signal was then fed from the 741 into a 567 Tone Decoder, which would not respond unless the incoming signal was within a certain frequency band. We set the IR LED emitters to that frequency, of course. Once the 567 accepted the tone, it in turn sent a pulse to a 555 timer set to single shot mode. We could adjust the length of the final trigger pulse that way, so as to control several different types of transmitter, sound effects boards, or whatever.

On the way to working the bugs out of the prototype, Dave found an odd thing happening. He would tune the circuit so the 567 would recognize the incoming tone, get it to work repeatedly, then run the board from his workbench out to his living room to show to his girlfriend. Whereupon it stopped working! He would take it back to the bench, retune the board, take it back out and it would work. But once back on the workbench for more than ten minutes and it would stop working again.

Dave finally figured out that the strong halogen lamp he was using to light his workbench was heating up the capacitors used by the 567 to set its frequency window. When he took it away from the workbench, the capacitors cooled slightly and altered the recognized frequency! We ended up ordering special tantalum capacitors with zero temperature coefficient – that is, their value would not change with the temperature.

(I later figured out that this was the major stumbling block in my early attempts to create a LazerTag land mine which would set off Worlds of Wonder sensors for our North Seattle games in 1990).

Nowadays I would probably try something like the Next Gen console using a dedicated computer or a microcontroller (same thing), but the business of detecting the touch of a finger to a smooth surface would pose the same problem. I would use Plexiglas instead of glass. It doesn’t filter IR like glass does. You can project an IR beam through the side of the pane of Plexiglas and a touch of the finger to the Plexiglas would give a strong reflection to a sensor on the backside. However, a dedicated emitter for each sensor would be better.

But who would want such a thing?

Sad Relics of a Happy Past

I have two boxes out in the garage filled with Star Trek props I tinkered with. One holds the finished products, the other a small selection of Playmates ST toys that were the basis of my tinkering. I cannot imagine anyone wanting them now. They represent a lot of wasted money and time.

Oh, I tried to get the word out. When I realized few were able to do what I did, I decided to create my own tutorials. The biggest Seattle Star Trek fanclub at the time was founded on the ‘Mirror, Mirror’ episode of the Original Series and (at the time) called itself Imperial Starbase Seattle (ISS). It was run by a couple of fellows who are still around in various forms – Michael Montoure was one of them. I think they have a Facebook page up now. We had a falling-out in 1992 over publishing rights to a tutorial I’d written – the Chief Engineer’s Manual - and I was left to publish it on my own. I copied the cover style of the existing ISS publications as best I could and made twenty copies. I sold all but one, though I don’t really think anyone used them to make a single costume prop.

I continued to deal with the ISS’s satellite fan clubs, and that is when I met up with Dave Pinney. I continued to write tutorials for making electronic costume props (on an ISS BBS). Eventually I published those tutorials in one volume while making another for upgrading the NG Tricorder.

So far as I know, no one ever used them. Though they were written with the beginner in mind, they also assumed a few basic skills – using a VOM, soldering and reading a circuit diagram, or schematic. I have come to the conclusion over the years that 95% of the people out there who might have come in contact with this information never possessed any of these skills. Nor desired to. I gave up trying to get the word out in 1995 when a printed tutorial offering to teach you to upgrade Worlds of Wonder LazerTag guns fell flat on its face.

Nowadays, if the bug struck me, I would blog the hell out of it, as while those skills still do not appear to be common, I can reach a lot more people through the Internet.

Then again, maybe not. In all the years since, I have been installing electronic special effects in Warhammer:40K models and BattleTech displays. Only one person has ever asked me to help him make something similar:

And that was five years ago.

Control Line!

Here is the progress I have made so far on the Double Bean. As you can see, I joined the tanks together to make two larger units. I used some braided wire to bridge the gap in the center and installed some longer copper tubing to pick up the fuel. So far, so good. I also cut some thin plywood in the shape of the ribs in order to replace the two that will support and anchor the bellcrank.

Next up will be a stiff horizontal stabilizer and elevator, along with an extra vertical stabilizer and rudder. All the parts needed are just about finished. Soon it will be time to actually assemble the model. I will cut the rib location notches in the center section’s leading and trailing edges, and locate the horizontal stabilizer mounts accurately in the fuselage. I don’t want a warped wing or model!

Below is a 1964 Gilbert .11 Control line engine running for the first time in decades. It is turning a wood 7-3 propeller.

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

BattleTech Game Report and More TRO Art


Weeeellll, we’re back with some additional stuff. Not as much as I’d hoped for, but the payments are slowly going out.

- Daniel Cherng has reported in as having returned from Utah and working on his commission. However, I have seen nothing of this continued work. We are close to dropping him as we can’t seem to get anything but promises out of him in a reasonable amount of time. Let’s face it – he’s had months and months to produce something for the same amount of money I pay to a fellow who turns out stellar work in a matter of days. Lee Madison is worth the wait – Mr. Cherng, not so much.

- And speaking of the man, Lee Madison has already checked in requesting details and parameters on the background work. I gave them to him, along with some samples of work done by other artists along similar lines. I don’t need photo realistic – that would be a waste of effort by the artist given the final setting. You’ve seen his prototype sketches for the White Knight. Expect more goodness in about a month.

- Seth Kurbound (Chris Seymour) has submitted a first draft of the Draconis Combine’s Nemera based on my requests and preferences. I am tweaking the image tonight, but as you can see, it is shaping up nicely even for a rough.

- Stephen Huda did an astounding 50+ pieces for Catalyst Game Labs’ TRO:3085. I had not guessed it was such a large number, but that explains the speed and excellence he brings to the table. The drafting table, that is – he has finished the Capellan Guandao and has started on another piece, the Federated Commonwealth’s Pershing A-57.

This machine carries a Johnston Mk II Sniper artillery cannon and effectively follows the lead of the Star League’s original Marksman, with some improvements. The main gun is turret mounted with a hull-mounted small pulse laser – and it is available in quantity, something that cannot be said of its predecessor, which is a carefully hoarded museum piece.

- Karl Olson is working on one remaining piece. He should have a rough draft ready in a few days.

- Eric Ou has had a computer crash and is tied up with schoolwork. He will be working on the Outworlds Alliance’s Werewolf when he has time.

I have had another emergency come up in the meantime – dental work for my wife, whose previous fillings came out and which requires pulling the offending tooth and updating her partial denture.

Meanwhile she is in a lot of pain.

The other option was a root canal ($1200) and a new crown ($600), neither of which I can afford even with dental insurance. We will be hard-pressed to afford even the elected procedure, and it will set art payments back a bit. I am going to concentrate on paying for what we have ordered and hold off on new commissions for the time being. There are only a few left in any case.

- Bill is still struggling with InDesign. I hope to locate a good tutorial for him as soon as possible.


The game in Redmond was... interesting. Our opponents were a Daishi, two Thors, a Vulture and an Uller with three points of Elemental battle armor. Battle Values for both sides were identical. You have already seen what I drew up for our OpFor troops. We started with 3025 technology; short-ranged main guns, single heatsinks and slow machines.


Turn One

When the game was over (in about seven turns), we hadn’t lost a single machine and had notched our belts with the Daishi and the Uller, and had the Vulture on the ropes. Very much NOT what I was expecting.

Our opponents were the Ghost Bears and were operating under Zellbrigen Level One rules. This was a comparative disadvantage to them and in future games the OpFor will be 75% of the Clan forces. However…

Turn Two

Turn Three

Our opposing players were still thinking like Inner Sphere Mechwarriors and were quite passive. They were there specifically to earn Honor points in the pursuit of more effective machines and better combat skills. The Clan would not have won that battle in any case, but they could have gone out literally covered in glory if they had acted like haughty Clan Mechwarriors and simply gone for their targets with gusto.

Turn Four

Yes, we would have trashed them. But they would have taken several of our ‘Mechs with them and gained the Honor points in following strict Zell. Instead… we hemmed them into the corner of a single mapsheet and hammered away while they mostly stood still.

Turn Five

To be fair, the Uller got into the mix immediately, a Thor followed and the Vulture advanced to his doom. But no one accomplished their goal of destroying their opponent and the other Thor and that Daishi sat with their backs to the edge of the mapsheet nearly the entire game. I think they could have lost the battle and won Honor points, but instead they lost the battle – not having any apparent battle plan – and gained no Honor, or very little.

Close Combat

There were cries of foul from Turn Three, one directed at my choice of the four Hunchbacks. Apparently no one thought it reasonable to field a lance of these machines to act as a single unit. I believe it actually intimidated a few of the opposing players. I was right – a lance of ‘Mechs made up of a single type IS something not often seen on the gaming table. But not because the lance is an unusual formation, or because Hunchbacks are rare machines in the Draconis Combine.


Another issue was the speed with which our forces closed. The original setup called for two mapsheets, with the OpFor placing its units anywhere on the second sheet. We chose the side closest to our opponents, knowing it would put us immediately in their sights but needing to close as fast as possible. We began with a flanking run on Turn One, getting into the Clan backfield and firing on the Daishi on Turn Two, faster than even I expected and a real shock to our foes.

They insisted we start further back next time. Unless their tactics improve, the outcome may still be the same.

Thanks for stopping by.