Violence… Who’s to Blame?

So… I’m writing this post mainly in response to a post by my former history professor.  This is the night before my dinner with my local 18th century long-rifle re-enactment group, but I’m not sure if I will actually publish this before or after said event.  Indeed, this is a departure from my usual material.  Not since I first started this blog have I addressed any sort of political or philosophical topic.

Anyway, one of my favourite YouTube channels is the Rageaholic.  He’s loud and foul-mouthed, but he’s also articulate, well-educated, and hilarious.  It was a strange coincidence that this video, which he made as a guest on Sargon of Akkad’s channel, popped up in my feed immediately after I had already written a comment on the aforementioned post.  I’ve already seen the video, so I didn’t bother to watch it again, but I thought it was quite relevent to the topic at hand.  Originally, I was simply going to type up my comment and leave it at that, but now…

Although the aforementioned post is in response to a slogan, rather than an incident, I am reminded that EVERY TIME something terrible happens, Americans immediately look for some inanimate object to blame, rather than placing all responsiblity squarely on the cognitively compromised individual who perpetrated the act in the first place.  Let me make one thing very clear: having a healthy respect for machinery, guns included, is very important.  Industrial environments are filled with machines that are capable of doing for more damage to a human body than any handheld firearm.  As a gun owner, long-time shooter, hunter, and machinist with his own machine tools, I am quite well aware of how to properly handle such lethal implements.  “But guns are meant to kill people,” I hear you say, “you can’t kill anyone but yourself by misusing a lathe!”  Go suck a railroad spike, I’ve heard that argument more times than I can count.  People have used carskniveshammersnail-guns, and pieces of pipe to kill each other ever since they discovered such things could be used as weapons.  In fact, I’m happy to live in a country where the government does not immediately create new legislation every time someone goes on a killing spree.  A number of years ago, a crazed man in the U.K. went on a killing spree with a katana.  Katanas are now heavily restricted in the U.K. as a result.  Now then, no-one in any country that I know of still carries a sword in public, but as both a sword collector and practitioner of Iaidō, I would be absolutely livid if I had to pass a background check, go through a registration process, or common sense forbid, endure a five-day waiting period every time I wanted to add another blade over three inches in length to my collection.  I have several guns to my name, I have never had to wait for any of them (because I don’t own any handguns), and I’ve had to pass a background check only once.  Why?  Aside from my .45-70, all the guns I own are either antiques or reproductions of such that use black powder.  You may not know this, but black powder firearms are completely unregulated in the U.S.  I mentioned in my comment that I am a chemist as well (I majored in chemistry before switching to engineering), and I know how to make black powder.  I know how to make dynamite as well – from scratch.  Does this make me a dangerous person?  No.  I am not dangerous, save to raccoons, whitetail deer, and any pests stupid enough to break into my house, animal or human.

So, what was the point of all that rambling?  Well, note the swift action that Parliament took after the aforementioned ronin-style killing spree.  That does not happen in the U.S. whenever some serial killer decides to use an unusual weapon.  It is, in fact, parody come to life in the U.K.  I say that because Monty Python did a sketch on this matter about defending oneself against fresh fruit.  In the sketch, one of the Pythons (I forget which, I think it was Eric Idle) asked about “defending oneself against pointed sticks.”  John Cleese’s character fires back with something to the effect of “don’t be ridiculous, why would you have to defend yourself against a pointed stick?”  Today, Parliament’s policies have become meme-worthy, with the idea being that any time someone commits murder, the murder weapon is immediately banned, even if it literally is fresh fruit.  Certainly, the British have long abandoned the weapon-centric culture of the Middle Ages, a culture which persists in the U.S. to an extent.  However, as I go deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole, I have to ask, is it a gun culture that Americans suffer from, or something else?

I mentioned that I know how to make black powder.  I can also cast bullets.  If modern ammunition were outlawed tomorrow, I would still be able to hunt and defend myself.  I’m not the only one, either.  There are videos all over YouTube of people making their own functional firearms with far less equipment than I have in my own machine shop.  Rural Americans are very self-reliant, and disarming them is next to impossible.  Are they violent?  I rather doubt it, SO, back to the topic at hand.  Assuming, dear reader, that you have read the post I originally cited (including my comment), as well as watched the video, you have two perspectives aside from my own.  There is something that I was originally going to add to my comment, but didn’t.  Here it is: Americans are rebels.  It is part of American culture to abhor the establishment.  This is why Donald Trump, of all people, was elected by an overwhelming geographic majority if not a numerical one.  He represents the anti-establishment.  The NRA, and all of the gun manufacturers in bed with them, relish every new anti-gun measure that legislators propose, because it means that large numbers of Americans will stock up on guns and ammo in preparation for the imaginary shootout they will have with the establishment “come to take our guns.”  Keep dreaming, Bubba J, the U.S. government doesn’t even enforce existing gun laws, so you needn’t worry about any new ones.  Did I mention that I was trying to get back on topic?  I’m getting there.  Here’s the thing: there is no single source to blame for violence.  Violent people exist, full stop.  Restricting their access to weapons will serve merely to engage the more creative side of their blood lust.  Those who are creative enough can turn nearly anything into a lethal weapon, after all, humans have been tearing each other to shreds since before we had metal.  No, access to weapons does not incite violence, neither does “violent” entertainment.  While media certainly affects culture, I would argue that a culture needs to pay close attention to its youth an routinely remind them that “violence is a last resort,” but is anyone dispensing that sort of wisdom these days?

One of the members of the re-enactment group, a gentleman who looks like Father Christmas (and even dresses as him on occasion), once asked me “what do they teach in schools these days?”  Given that I was homeschooled, I was spared the experience, but thanks to the internet, I had an answer: “how to not hurt each other’s feelings,” I replied.  Taxpayer-subsidised daycare is doing this, and I’m not sure if it’s to blame for the gun culture directly, or if the gun culture is trying to protect itself from my very generation (of which I am deeply ashamed), but it’s not doing anything to teach people how to get along and not kill each other.  Oh, and how well that’s worked.  Before I go, feast your eyes on this, and then ask yourself, “how bad would this be if every member of such a violent crowd had a gun?”

I largely agree that “gun culture” is a problem, but I really don’t think that it’s a priority.  Lump me in with stuck-up trouser stains such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and French President Emmanuel Macron all you like, but I will say again: violent people exist, and violence is not something that can ever be completely removed from society.  We have police for that very reason, but giving them more and more laws to enforce while simultaneously tying their hands and preventing them from doing their jobs leads to, you guessed it, mob rule.  When the police finally showed up to stop the protests across the U.S. in the wake of Trump’s election, people cheered them on.  What does that tell you?  Humans like to live in a society where they feel safe.  Americans, however, are under the impression that a government that can keep them safe is too powerful to be trusted.  As a result, they hoard weapons with the idea that they must protect themselves from the government.  “A patriot is a man who is ready to defend one’s country against one’s government.”  I may have messed that quote up a bit, and I don’t even remember who said it, but I think it speaks volumes.  Americans love their country, no question, so perhaps they love guns so much because they think they need them.

In all this rambling, I failed to answer the title question, but hopefully, I’ve left you with some food for thought.  It might be a bit chewy, but it should be digestible.

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The Cost of War… Gaming

I took a break from making model ships and went back to some of my model buildings.  Below is a factory that combines a variant of my chaos factory and my airship hangar.  Kaja's main factory

That thin line running through the middle is a railway.  You can see it a little better in the other pictures.

Kaja's main factory 2

Below, you can see an Alexandrian flying trireme lifting off from the hangar portion of the complex.

Kaja's main factory liftoff

I offer my airship hangar as a self-contained unit, but I am quite aware that, unlike historical airship hangars, it alone cannot be used to build an airship.  The reason is quite simple, and that is that the materials and tools used to build a zeppelin take up much less space relative to the finished airship than the materials for a glossarian airship.  It should come as no surprise that building a heavily-armoured, armed-to-the-teeth glossarian airship is more like building a surface battleship than any other type of airship… even in the context of my fantasy world.  All of those components are produced and held in the larger rear structure, then moved to the hangar only when ready for assembly.  Stand-alone hangars, on the other hand, are used merely for refuelling, stocking up on ammunition, routine maintenance, and minor repairs.  For anything beyond that, a glossarian airship would have to land at a shipyard like the one above.

Alexandrian shipyards are unique, mainly because a very shrewd arms dealer named Kveta Vamaruchenko managed to get a monopoly on the production of glossarion levitators, prompting the crown to invest obscene amounts of money into her operation.  Vamaruchenko had previously made a name for herself by manufacturing big guns for the Alexandrian Empire, and although she never made any significant changes to existing gun designs, she did develop a few new types of shells, the most effective of which was known as the flare-star.  In the interest of efficiency, Vamaruchenko had everything made in the same factory, and thus ships launched from her factory hangars were fully armed, fully loaded, and “battle-ready.”  Now then, in RTS computer games, that is the norm, but that isn’t how ships were historically built.  The shipyard and the steel mill were separate entities, and once the hull was launched, it was then fitted out with the superstructure and weaponry.  Boilers, engines, guns, and ammunition were all produced and supplied by different entities.  Vamaruchenko hated this, and used her profits to build immense complexes and make everything in one place.  When she started out, everything but the guns, levitators, and ammunition had to be purchased.  By the time of Operation Royal Twins, however, in which the flying triremes first saw action, the only thing that Vamaruchenko still had to buy was the raw steel.  Most of the trade secrets required to manufacture components such as face-hardened nickel-steel plate (Krupp armour), boilers, and steam turbines had been shared throughout I.A.M.A.D.A. (International Arms Manufacture And Distribution Association).  For this reason, the individual members of I.A.M.A.D.A. were all seen as being particularly dangerous.  Vamaruchenko was not the only arms dealer to be so widely feared.  Alesandré Zimatius Arqenegón, chairman of Firebird Munitions in Sondor, was another.  He specialised in building odd-sized guns and explosive shells, such that standard munitions could, in a pinch, work in his guns, but that his shells could not be loaded into any other guns.  Firebird’s shells came in odd calibres such as 86mm, 127.4mm, 152.9mm, and 205mm (not a particularly odd calibre in other countries, but the Sondorian standard was 203mm).

When I started making these miniature props for my story, I devised ways that making models would reflect the complexity and cost of actually building a fleet.  Observe:Zaphnora old assembly

That is the old, gut-wrenching version of the Zaphnora, not one bit as pretty or streamlined as the new one.  You can barely see it, but on the left is the part tree.  Notice that each of the glossarion levitators is a separate component.  Someone buying the ship would simply get this:Zaphnora old main

And would have to buy the 36 levitators separately.  As you could probably imagine, that turned out to be so expensive, even when I put large groups of levitators on sprues, that even I didn’t want to spend that kind of money to validate my own models.  Needless to say, I changed my design.  However, upon fiddling with the factory, the thought crossed my mind about how costs work in wargames.  My experience is extremely limited, so I’m going to use the two examples I am most familiar with: Axis and Allies and Age of Empires (the franchise, not just the first game).  In Axis and Allies, the unit of currency is the Industrial Production Certificate, or IPC.  The IPC is meant to represent one million man-hours of labour, but for the purpose of my point, that isn’t pertinent.  The IPC is one of only two resources of any concern in the game (the other being territory, which is the most important part of any war or wargame).  As long as a player controls territory, that player has an income, and can buy units.  I have won the game twice, first as the Allies with a military victory, and second as the Axis with an economic victory (go figure; actually, the secret to such a victory is to be the opposite of Hitler, consolidate your forces, and expand very slowly in only one direction at a time).  It’s a fairly simple idea, but it can theoretically go on forever, with each power waxing and waning based on… luck, more or less.  I have also played PC RTS games (I know, I know, it doesn’t count, but I think my point still stands) in which the game’s supply of resources is infinite, and the game can go on forever (BFME, I’m looking at YOU).  One RTS game that gets this a bit more realistic, however, is Age of Empires.  In AoE, the player must collect four different resource types (food, wood, stone, and gold), and their army’s size is constrained by how many houses have been built.  Villagers must be tasked to collect resources and return them to a storage pit.  However, this bugged even my eight-year-old mind when I first played the game.  “How do resources collected in one storage pit on one side of the map cross a river and help my town on the other side of the map?”  Now, there are a few missions in AoE III (my all-time fave) in which the objective is to intercept the enemy’s resource wagons or otherwise cut off their supply lines, but the normal gameplay itself doesn’t have any sort of supply line.  In fact, settlers don’t even need to build storage pits anymore, something that the designers had previously played around with in Age of Mythology: the Titans.

I can hear you demanding “what’s your point?!”  Right, well, I sometimes think about how I would design such games, or, more precisely, what specific changes I would make in a game mod to make them a bit more realistic.  One idea I got is from Starcraft, and that is an area-of-effect resource silo.  Any structure too far from the storage pit would not receive resources, and thus not be able to produce anything, just as Protoss structures outside of a pylon’s blue field have no power and don’t work.  Now then, how would this apply to a board game such as Axis and Allies?  Well, we’re already on the right track, assuming my memory of the rules is accurate (I’m not digging the box out of storage to simply confirm this single thing).  New units must be placed in a territory with a factory, and can then be moved in a later turn.  Now then, in actual warfare, the factories are not on the front line, pumping out battle-ready tanks and aeroplanes.  When the fighting reaches the factory, the factory generally shuts down.  Indeed, factories were prime targets during World War II.  In fact, prior to the development of air power, taking out enemy factories without marching deep into enemy territory was out of the question.  But there’s more: factories themselves need resources to operate.  The resource that usually has to travel the furthest distance is coal.  Factories are usually built in cities, where there is a supply of labour.  Coal mines, on the other hand, are built deep underground in places where coal is plentiful, and usually not directly underneath a city, for reasons that ought to be fairly obvious.  AoE III touches on this idea with the “blockade” ability, preventing a player from receiving shipments.  I’ve never had this done to me, but given that I have played so many other games that don’t have this feature, I don’t take advantage of shipments except for things that I cannot build myself, such as forts and factories (or daimyo if I’m playing as the Japanese, those guys are very useful).  Actual supply lines, however, were absolutely vital in historical warfare.  In fact, I would argue that Russian partisan groups shared a lot of responsibility for stopping the Wehrmacht with the Russian winter itself (and Russian mud, something that people who have never been there frequently overlook).

Truthfully, although the overly simplified resource system in wargames has always bugged me, I never thought about how to fix it until making the miniature airships for one very simple reason: they rely on a very specialised resource, which makes building them a huge challenge.  Neticine, the great green crystal (yes, that is yet another RTS game reference) is found in only a few places on Rossbera.  Therefore, not just any factory can get the raw materials for making glossarion levitators.  In fact, Taressim has no neticine, so even though the country managed to get a hold of the technology, they didn’t have the raw materials to replicate it on a useable scale.  The country’s brilliant chemists couldn’t synthesise it, either.  Therefore, the Taressimian Air Force was stuck using zeppelins, which are completely useless against armoured cruisers that can fly.  In a game such as Axis and Allies, neticine would have to be another form of currency, one which would most likely be awarded in quantity according to roll of the dice, just as certain technologies are (heavy bombers, super submarines, etc.).  In a game like AoE or AoM, it would be just another resource, only exceedingly rare.  In AoE III, however, I would have it sent from the home city, rather than being something available for collection on the map.  And no, if I made a Nine Empires mod for AoE III, I would not send complete glossarian airships from the home city.  They are absurdly powerful, and that would make things too easy.  As far as other games?  Well, as I gain familiarity with different games and their sets of rules, I’ll come up with some more ideas.  Of course, making a perfectly accurate wargame would not only be an uphill battle (pun intended), but the resulting gameplay would end up being so frustrating that it would feel more like a chore than a game.  Real war is Hell.

The Aeronautical Development

This is, so far, the most complex airship model I have designed.  It may not look like much compared to the glossarian airships, but trust me, rendering this thing was an interesting experience.  I’m still tweaking a couple of minor details, and once that is done, the model will be available in my Shapeways shop.Aeronautical Development 1Aeronautical Development 2Aeronautical Development 3

This is the Aeronautical Development, an experimental Bulmutian airship built and operated by a university professor and several of his graduate students for the purposes of testing various pieces of equipment and performing atmospheric experiments.  She is a hybrid dirigible, or rigid airship, but must rely on other sources of lift to actually get off the ground (or water).  Thanks to a very generous donation, the professor was able to equip the ship with four glossarion levitators, with which he regularly performed various experiments.  However, should they be removed, the generators needed to power them could also be removed, thus reducing the weight of the ship enough for the wings and balloon to provide enough lift.  When the “five man band” (though, at this point in the story, is comprised of two men and two women without a definite leader) first encounters the ship, all but one of them get quite bored when the professor (known only as “the doctor” for now, since I haven’t come up with a name for him yet) explains the inner workings of this pure steampunk contraption.

Anyway, I tagged this post with “writing a novel.”  Why?  Well, the Aeronautical Development plays a fairly significant role in the story, albeit a short one.  Rubina Karamazova, exiled Grand Duchess of the Alexandrian Empire, hires the ship to take her on a survey mission.  The reason for this is long, convoluted, and explained over several chapters that I haven’t written yet (all this stuff is in my head, I just haven’t gotten around to putting it on paper), but I felt a rush of inspiration to write one of the more exciting “episodes” on board the ship when I listened to this.

I have no idea how fast most people read.  Apparently, most are a good bit slower than I am.  Therefore, clicking “play” and scanning the words on the page may not work for you the way it did for me.  However fast you read, and however well you can “see” the story come to life, you may want to read first, and then click “play.”  So, here you have it: a sample of my writing, currently slated to be the second half of the final chapter in book 5 (of 9).  Oh, one more thing before you get started: a comparison image of the TalosAeronautical Development, and Zaphnora.Airship chase 5-42 comparison

The lights glistened in the water, as they did in the air.  The icy water was shimmering onyx, the southeast horizon glowed a faint purple, and the northern lights above glowed yellow, green, and blue.  Winter was on its way, and this far north, the days had already gone completely black.  Yet, it was as bright as a summer noon, with the moons, the stars, and the aurora.

Rubina never had trouble sleeping during the white nights of summer, which lasted over four hundred days in Skharnograd, but during these black days, she barely slept at all.  She snuck out of her bunk, trying not to wake anyone, least of all Idrailu.  Normally, they would sleep together, but the narrow bunks on board the Aeronautical Development simply didn’t allow that.  He was so cheerful, the brightest of lights in this dark time.  He will never understand, Rubina told herself, it is not his burden to bear, no matter how far he follows me.  She donned her fur coat, ushanka and red gloves, then silently inched open the door to the stern deck, hoping that no gusts of wind would give her away.  Let them sleep, she thought, for this is my burden.

The lights were soothing, sparkling on the black, icy water, and dancing on the icebergs.  The northern ocean was fraught with bergs, some too small to dent a ship, some several miles long.  The good doctor left a watchman on the upper platform of the ship, walking around the balloon to make sure no bergs came too close.  He was the only one besides Rubina who was awake, and he would never see her, even if he looked straight down.  Rubina watched the bergs as well, sometimes tracing their shapes with her finger, looking for familiar shapes in them as a child might with clouds.  On the port side, she saw one with five peaks, the shortest on the ends, and the tallest in the centre, reaching high like the central spire of the White Keep.  The whole iceberg even looked like the White Keep from where she stood.  She turned round, and saw another with a huge arch in it, as if the berg were a floating bridge.  A bridge coming from nowhere, going to nowhere, drifting aimlessly in the seas, slowly melting away.  Looking straight astern, she saw one that looked just like the hull of a ship.  She cocked her head and raised a spyglass to her eye, careful not to touch the cold brass to her face.  She zeroed in on the peculiar iceberg, and saw that it was a ship, partially hidden behind another berg.  She could not see the whole ship, only the stern.  Two masts there were, each with six yards, some right on top of each other.  What’s a windjammer doing this far north?  It made no sense to her, as windjammers were usually bulk carriers, trade ships that never ventured far from the shore, save to reach the outer islands of places like Sondor and Breace.  However, some of them did serve as naval colliers, which meant…

She scanned to the left, then to the right, hoping to find a sign of another ship.  She began to hear a fell hum, and felt her heart sink into her stomach.  No, she thought, anything but that.  Then she spotted a bronze ram peeking out from behind the other end of the berg that hid the windjammer.  Her heart began to race.  “No,” she whispered, and started to see more.  The ship was bathed in a green glow, both from the aurora above and the water below.  This is an airship, she knew, I just hope it isn’t the one I fear it is.  Yet hope failed her, and the volute on the ship’s bow finally became visible.  It looked like the horns of a bronze rhino, curved and pointed.

She dropped the spyglass and ran inside shouting “all hands, all hands, enemy astern, enemy astern!”  The crew bolted upright, shaking their heads, but she didn’t need to pay them any further mind.  “Doctor,” she called out, “doctor, we have to get out of here, NOW!”  The doctor fiddled a bit to get his glasses on.  It seemed odd that he needed them to hear.  “Wha, what is it, your Grace?”  He was far slower to wake than his crew, who had already sprung into action, bringing the engines up to speed.  “The Zaphnora‘s almost on us!”  “It cannot be!”  That seemed to get the doctor moving.  He donned his tattered, goggled top hat and his gadget-filled coat and rushed to the stern deck.  He didn’t even need the spyglass to see the Zaphnora steaming toward them, its baffles and levitators not slowing it down, but instead leaving a roiling wake.  “Oh dear,” he lamented, “that ship can move.”  He ran back inside, his feet barely touching the floor as he jumped onto the ladder and vaulted up to the bridge.  Thus he went to work, his hands moving this way and that, pulling levers and flipping switches that brought the Aeronautical Development to life.  “The Zaphnora is surprisingly fast in the water,” he announced, “but we’ll be airborne and up to cruising speed well before she is.  Come on, lads and lasses, we’ll need every second we can get!”

It was all in the doctor’s hands now.  His and his crew’s, that was, Mick, Risa, Marzia, Alfrid, “Boomer,” and the rest.  Rubina climbed the ladder and ran out to the upper stern deck.  Idrailu was already there, watching the Zaphnora closing in.  Rubina grabbed his arm and held him close.  “They’re not trying to kill us,” he mused, “if they were, they’d have shot us already, we’re right in their sights.”  He was not wrong.  The Zaphnora had twin six-inch guns, mounted in side-by-side turrets on the bow deck, useful for firing on targets directly in front of the ship, but not much else.  The eight-inch guns and the missile tubes dealt the real damage, but they were all underwater right now.  “Wings extended,” they heard the doctor call.  By now, they had reached about forty knots, and the Zaphnora was finally starting to fall back.  They were not out of the woods yet, as the Aeronautical Development still had not left the water.  As a smaller ship, she could reach her top speed much faster, but the Zaphnora would quickly chase them down once both were airborne.  They needed to lose their pursuer in the clouds up ahead, and fast.

“Airspeed alive,” the doctor announced at fifty knots, and the Aeronautical Development no longer felt like a ship, though she still had not left the water.  “This was a fool’s errand,” Yuri growled as he joined Rubina and Idrailu outside, “and you don’t need to be outside to watch death chase us, it’s colder out here than an ice-nymph’s twat.”  “Have much experience with those things?”  Idrailu loved to tease Yuri.  “Is that why you’re always such a grump?  Did you fuck an ice-nymph and freeze your-”  “Enough,” Rubina snapped, “my captain is right, we should go back inside.  We need to look forward to our escape, not back to our doom.”  “Buoyancy neutral,” the doctor announced as they sat down and held on at the rear of the bridge, “prepare for rotation!”  The doctor pulled back on two massive levers to his sides, and the ship rose into the air, nose first.  Once his altimeter came alive, the side propellers were engaged, and the ship rocketed forward and upward, through two hundred, three hundred metres and eighty, ninety knots.  The doctor made a sharp turn to starboard, intending to put a particularly large iceberg between his ship and the Zaphnora.  “The second row of bells is airborne,” Boomer announced over the intercom, referring to the Zaphnora‘s levitators.  He was in the stern observation dome, keeping an eye on their pursuer.  “Course?”  The doctor wanted to know if the Zaphnora was still heading in the same direction.  “Unchanged,” was Boomer’s reply, followed by “third row of bells airborne.  She’s turning starboard.”  Moments later, the Zaphnora was fully airborne and on their tail once more.

“Guns in position,” Boomer announced.  “What?!”  Idrailu blurted out, “they had us right in their sights before, why wait to fire on us until now?”  Before anyone could answer, an explosion rocked the ship.  Mick let out a blood-curdling scream of “RISA!  RIIIISAAAAA!”  Risa had been in the port observation dome, which had just been obliterated by an explosive shell.  “You can’t save her now,” the doctor yelled over the intercom, “our cover is only a few hundred metres away.  Everybody hold on!”  The Aeronautical Development swerved starboard, and nearly threw everyone to the floor.  By the time they had gotten used to the new direction, the ship swerved to port.  The doctor kept up this zigzag pattern for about an hour, trying to make sure that, not only would the Zaphnora not have enough time to aim, but also could not predict where the target might be.  All the while, flare-star shells exploded in the clouds as their pursuer tried in vain to hit them.  A few small fiery bits struck the ship, but not enough to do any damage or kill anyone else.  Nonetheless, the ship rattled so fiercely that it felt like she was going to fall apart every time a shell exploded.  It was getting worse.  The explosions were getting closer every time.  The gunners of the Zaphnora had figured out the doctor’s little game, and were beginning to zero in on their target.  All hope of escape began to diminish.

Cruising at a hundred and eighteen knots, the Aeronautical Development‘s top speed, they came out of the clouds.  A wall of clouds was behind them, and a floor of clouds below, all glowing a faint blue-green, soaking up the moonlight and the aurora.  The sky above was clear and black, glistening with starlight.  The explosions had stopped, but not nearly long ago enough for the Zaphnora to have given up.  Though no-one knew her top speed, it had to be at least a hundred and twenty knots.  It could have been a hundred and thirty, or higher still.  “Why are we out in the open?”  Idrailu seemed worried.  “The doctor isn’t giving up, is he?”  “No,” was the doctor’s reply, “but we’ve lost our cover.  I can’t just dive, because I have no way of knowing what I might land on top of.  No, unless I see a break in this floor, we must stay the course.”  “Aeronautical Development, come in Aeronautical Development.”  The message over the wireless came by a complete surprise.  Rubina recognised the voice immediately, and snatched the microphone from the doctor’s hand to reply.  “This is Aeronautical Development,” she replied, “Masha, where are you?”  “Right behind you, the cavalry is here.”  Rubina looked astern, and through the window, saw the Talos rise from the cloud floor.  She was looking at the port side of the ship as she spoke over the wireless.  “I thank you for the help,” she lamented, “but unless you’ve brought other ships, it’s too little, too late.  The Zaphnora is almost on us.”  “I know.  The beast won’t be quite so fast when we’re through with it.  You can make your escape.  Just, whatever you do, don’t come back this same way.”  “Masha, what are you doing?”  There was nothing further from Maria Beltova.  “Doctor, the Talos can’t match the Zaphnora for firepower, do you think Captain Beltova intends to ram the ship?”  “Worse,” Yuri interrupted, “she’s going to make the Zaphnora ram her.”

He was not wrong.  The Talos was positioned for it, right behind the Aeronautical Development.  The timing could not have been better.  Before Rubina had time to grab the microphone again and try to talk her friend out of this sacrifice, the Zaphnora burst out of the cloud wall, and not two seconds later, crashed into the starboard side of the Talos.  Lightning and sparks exploded from the latter’s levitators, followed by streams of orange flame and black smoke.  “Masha!”  Rubina screamed over and over, looking out the window at the two ships moving toward them.  The Talos was engulfed in smoke and flame as the Zaphnora continued to push her.  The Aeronautical Development sped away, and just before the other two ships fell out of sight, the Talos broke in half on Zaphnora‘s ram.  The debris and smoke engulfed the Zaphnora, and she disappeared in the distance.  To hope that she crashed also would have been folly.  Nonetheless, the ship would have been severely damaged from that encounter, which was Maria’s plan, after all.  Eight hundred lives for a survey mission that I shouldn’t even be on, Rubina thought.  If this was the price for simply learning about their enemy, then when the true war begins, the price for victory will be too steep to pay.  Nonetheless, I must know.  I must know what these chuyinka have planned for Rossbera.

Of Faires, Shoes, and My Own Silliness

Every now and then, I feel a need to poke my head out the ivory tower and remind everyone that I am still human.  You know, maybe I should start a YouTube channel (though Vid.Me is looking more attractive at this point), because plain text simply cannot portray the fact that I could not say that with a straight face.  I don’t engage with the outside world because it’s healthy (it’s not), I do it because I find people to be fascinatingly entertaining… sometimes.  Most of the time, they are merely frustrating.  Consider this post akin to a rant – but without me losing my temper.

Considering the unusually high amount of attention I’ve been getting lately, I thought I should post something, even though I have very little in the way of decent content to share.  Remember my multiple mentions of Renaissance Faires?  Well, I finally have something to share about that, though it is disappointingly little, considering that most of the time I spent entertaining three wacky Indian women, when my original intention was to take lots of pictures and shop for a decent hat (a process made even more difficult by the fact that I hate hats).  Below is the most productive thing that happened at the Maryland Renaissance Faire:Siri and Kaja

No, I didn’t hook up.  Well, I did, but not in the way most people use the phrase.  I got a job at the place I designed the logo for.  In case you couldn’t guess, I’m on the right of this photo.  Siri, by the way (yes, that is her name) was in plain clothes (or “naked,” see explanation here, skip to 8:27) when she arrived with her two room-mates.  In case you’re wondering, she’s one of my future colleagues (I say that because I don’t actually start my new job for at least another month).  But enough of that, because I’m the centre of attention here.  No, seriously, I had no fewer than a half-dozen people ask to take my picture, so you might see other pictures of me floating around the internet.  Apparently, 16th century Russian knyazi (князи) have the best fashion sense at such events, even without a hat.  I’m still not happy.  I always look terrible in pictures.  For some odd reason, my head always looks comically small, and my jaw always looks fatter than it actually is.  No camera, for whatever reason, seems to be able to accurately reproduce the actual shape of my face.  But enough about that.  Remember I said in my last post that my next one, at least the next one with lots of pictures, would be about shoes?  Yeah… it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen.  See, here’s my issue: I bought a pair of Catskill Moccasins a few years ago (which I’m wearing in this photo, and I have a close-up of them in this post), and I’d like to be able to wear them when walking on less-than-perfect terrain.  Dust in the folds from the faire is one thing, but I’d like to avoid getting them scraped on rocks or full of mud (I paid a lot of money for them, and since the cobblers took 18 months when they promised me 12, there is no way I’m ever getting another pair).  There is, of course, a historical solution to such a quandary: pattens.

Pattens are wooden over-shoes designed to protect indoor shoes in the event that one must go outside and walk about in the mud or snow.  See, until the invention of rubber soles, shoes had either indoor soles (smooth leather) or outdoor soles (hobnails).  Lindybeige has made two videos about this subject, so I’ll save myself some time and direct you to parts one and two of his ramblings about historical shoes.  Now then, I have no trouble with traction, because Catskill Moccasins are made with rubber soles.  However, as I mentioned earlier, I’d like to keep them from getting messed up, so the need for pattens stands.  So, here’s what I have:Boot plain

And here’s what I want:Boot and patten

I’m not kidding, they look like chunky, high-heeled Cheri shoes.  However, that’s how high I need to bring my feet off the ground to keep the dust, wet grass, gravel, and occasional mud puddle from ruining my expensive buffalo hide.  Besides, I’m so used to walking on my toes that my heels seldom touch the ground when I wear flat-soled shoes.  These things, however, don’t look like they’re going to get made any time soon.  No-one that I know of makes them, and I can’t even get a properly sized block of wood to make them myself.  A block!  A 4″x5″x12″ block is what I need for each one, plus a couple of stiff leather toe caps, and the rest I can do myself, but I can’t even get that!

Right then, enough whingeing.  I may have another event on 11 November when I get to play dress-up again, but there is no guarantee that the event will even take place, much less that I will get a lot of pictures.  So, assuming the worst, this will be the most deviation from my normal topics of 3D-printed miniatures for a long time.  The next few models I will likely work on the near future include the Aeronautical Development, an experimental airship with a fairly major role in The Nine Empires, an Admiral Lazarev-class monitor, the Russian pre-dreadnought battleships of the Russo-Japanese War, and also some warships from 1700-1720, which would fill roles in wargames centred round both the Golden Age of Piracy and the Great Northern War.  I know I’m getting ahead of myself again, but that’s what I intend to work on.

Here, Here, Fellow Model-Makers

One of my customers, Jürgen Klüser, recently purchased my 1812 frigate in 1/700 scale.  Prior to that, however, he bought this:

1_700 trireme

This is a model of a trireme in 1/700 scale.  This is meant to be one of the larger triremes constructed during the Hellenistic Period, with 70 oars (most had around 50).  Of course, a ship like this would also have been typical of a smaller Roman warship.

Anyway, the reason that I bring this up is that Jürgen has quite an extensive collection of models (far larger than my own).  Below is a screenshot of my trireme on his website.Juergen trireme screenshot

For some odd reason, I could not get a higher resolution on any of the photos.  I have the larger one only because he sent to me.  Anyway, you can check my stuff out for yourself on his website (as of this writing, he doesn’t have anything else under my name yet), or check out his homepage for lots of other interesting models.  Most of these models, as you can probably imagine, are commercially available kits (he’s not selling them on his website, by the way), not the 3D-printed oddities that have only recently entered the market to fill in the gaps.  I’m serious about that, by the way.  You try finding models of Greco-Roman warships in your local hobby shop – I don’t know about in Germany, but you certainly won’t have any luck in the U.S.

Anyway, I had another reason for making this post, and that’s because I’m in the process of doing something similar with my own models.  As you might have noticed in the post about the 1812 warships, I’ve been going crazy with the camera lately.  Now that I have a decent set-up, I intend to start posting lots of pictures and doing something similar to Jürgen with my blog.  Granted, I’ll be sticking with my own creations, and I don’t expect to have a particularly large gallery any time soon, but I think that this is something all model-makers should do.  There simply isn’t enough appreciation of this sort of work, even (and perhaps most especially) within the families of people who do this, and without galleries to preserve the careful work, a lot of it is simply tossed out like rubbish.  I’ve managed to save exactly eight model aeroplanes so far, all from my late former employer (that may seem redundant, allow me to clarify: the proprietor of the company I used to work for died while I was still working, but I continued working there for another two years), whose widow simply wanted to get rid of them.  You’ll see them eventually, as I intend to take pictures before I find them proper homes (four of them are quite large, and I think would be better suited to adorning the chart-room at my local aerodrome, rather than my bookshelf).

I’d rather not end on such a negative note, so I’ll leave you with a head-scratcher: my next post (or, at least, the next one with lots of pictures) will likely be about shoes.  Seriously, shoes.

The Tank Collection

As you may know, I offer several Soviet heavy tanks in my Shapeways shop.  I have the entire KV series available, except for the KV-85 and the [possibly mythical] KV-6 land battleship.  However, my hand remains steady only when shooting a rifle, not when trying to paint 6mm scale models.  Therefore, I didn’t have pictures of them painted until now, when my most frequent customer provided a picture of everything he bought from me, and then some.

Fred's tanks labelled

All but Object 263 and the S-51 (both Soviet self-propelled guns) are available in the “tanks” section of my shop.  If you want to know more about each of these without visiting the product pages, keep reading.

All eight are experimental and/or cancelled projects.

KV-220: an experimental step up from the KV-1, superior in every way, with a longer chassis and 85mm cannon.  A single prototype was constructed in 1941, then lost in December of the same year after a direct hit from a 150mm howitzer.

KV-4: about 20 different designs were proposed for this tank, though my original customer (not the one who took this picture) wanted the version from the game “World of Tanks.”  The game designers based their model very closely on project Strukov.  However, the KV-4 was to be produced at the Kirov plant in Leningrad, and all experimental projects were cancelled when the city was attacked.

KV-3: three projects, objects 221, 222, and 223, were proposed for the KV-3.  The design was meant to be a step up in every way from the KV-1, rather like the KV-220.  Object 223 was the most heavily-armed and armoured version, and thus chosen.  It had a 107mm cannon and a maximum armour thickness of 120mm.  However, the prototype was destroyed before production could begin and the project promptly cancelled.

T-150: the new diamond-shaped turret of the KV-220 on a standard KV-1 chassis, and also with a more powerful engine.  The only one ever built was destroyed while defending Leningrad.  Are you noticing a pattern yet?

KV-7: two 45mm cannons and one 76.2mm cannon were nestled into a casemate.  This design was not very effective, and after one prototype was built in 1941, the project was revised into the KV-7-2, which carried a 152.4mm howitzer in place of the three smaller guns, thus leading directly to the SU-152, which did enter production.

S-51: model by Kampfflieger.  A step up from the SU-152 (!), this vehicle was armed with a 203mm howitzer, which brought the vehicle’s weight up to 66 tonnes, though none of that weight could be attributed to the roof, which had to be removed in order for the gun to be loaded.  This one was built considerably later than the others, tested in 1944, and cancelled within a year, as it was not very successful.

KV-5: yet another experimental project out of the Kirov plant, cancelled when Leningrad was attacked.  Only one design, object 225, was proposed.  Like object 223, this one had a 107mm cannon, but could carry a lot more ammunition, naturally.  Two machine gun turrets could also defend the tank from infantry armed with anti-tank weapons.  The weight was projected to be 100 tonnes, making this a super-heavy tank, and the heaviest ever built by the Soviets… except no prototype was ever built.

Object 263: model by oyvindsofienlund.  This one is quite out of place, as it was built in 1951 on an IS-7 chassis and armed with a 130mm cannon.  Naturally, since the IS-7 (object 260) also had a 130mm cannon, this thing seemed pointless.  About the only thing it had going for it was that it was 8 tonnes lighter than the IS-7.  Stalin didn’t like it, and Khrushchëv had no interest in continuing to produce heavy tanks, so the project was cancelled, along with everything else over 37 tonnes.

Warships of 1812

Let’s start with the bomb ship in 1/700 scale.  This model comes in two parts.

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The smallest drill I have is 1mm, but I needed 0.7mm to clean out the mortar barrels.  I used a bent sewing pin instead.

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The mortars after de-spruing and clean-up (removal of tiny printing artefacts, which were far too small for any of my camera lenses to capture, but which stuck out like a sore thumb to my horribly myopic eyes).

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A pair of smooth-jaw, self-closing forceps proved perfect for both installing and positioning the mortars.

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I chose to position the mortars facing both the bow and stern for now.  They snap into place easily, and rotate quite freely (as long as you have something to grab them with, of course).  Since aiming (as imprecise as it is with barrels proportioned like teacups) and loading took so long for early mortars, wargamers who choose to use this model may take a full turn just to position their weapons for their next attack.  Naturally, this depends on what rules you’re playing by, after all, most naval wargames that I know of don’t even use bomb ships.

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Two views of the bomb ship next to the Flying Dutchman.  If you read my previous post, you know why the scale is something of an issue.  The bomb ship is certainly the right size (given that I had actual data to work with), but the Dutchman is absurdly large for a 68-gun galleon.

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The 1/700 and 1/1000 scale bomb ships.  Both of these models can be ordered here.

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The set of 1812 warships.  They look remarkably similar, though the difference is much more apparent in the bottom photo.

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The 1812 warships and an early English galleon.  All the models are supposed to be 1/1000 scale, though I’m not certain if galleons ever got this big back when they still had four masts.  By the way, in case you’re wondering, I used to make all of my model sailing ships trimmed for running, but after issues with the masts twisting inside the plastic bags they were packaged in, my new standard practise became to trim all square sails by 30 degrees.  Twisted and broken masts are far less common now.

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At least this one is accurate, since I had actual blueprints to work with when I made my model of the Preussen.  She’s missing one of her staysails, but that doesn’t matter for the purpose of this photo.

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So, there you have it, two ships that serve as the backbone of any sensible navy during the War of 1812, be it British, French, American, or Russian.  As you probably know, the British were enamoured with three-deck ships-of-the-line as well.  Don’t worry, I’ll have one of those soon enough.

Sets and Goofs

The latest addition to my Shapeways shop is a pair of single-deck warships of a design that emerged in the late 18th century and were used throughout the first half of the 19th century.  For this reason, I have called them the “1812” warships.  They are currently available in 1/700 scale and 1/1000 scale, and the latter will soon be available as a set, which is much more cost-effective for those who wish to build a fleet.1812 warships

The ship on the right is a 44-gun frigate, the same exact type as “Old Ironsides,” otherwise known as the USS Constitution.  The gun deck has 44 gunports, including the stern chasers, but the upper deck can accommodate many more guns.  This one has an additional eight gunports on the upper deck, bringing the total count up to 52.  Constitution herself frequently carried more than 50 guns, as the ship’s armament could be configured at the captain’s discretion.

The ship on the left is a bomb ship, also called a mortar ship.  This type was developed directly from the earlier bomb ketch, which is so-named because, at the time, “ship” strictly meant a three-masted vessel, and during the 17th century, there was no room for a foremast on a ship that carried a mortar.  By the end of the 18th century, however, warships had become large enough that mortars could be fitted to full-rigged ships.  Unlike a bomb ketch, which had to be built with a wider hull, a bomb ship needed only have its masts moved a little farther apart, and have the rope stays replaced with chains to keep them from catching fire.  On my model, I have removed the lowest staysails entirely, as well as giving it one fewer jib than the frigate, as an easy way to distinguish the two.

The reason I brought up the USS Constitution earlier was simply because she had a fairly common design for her day.  The ship is highly celebrated, so data is very readily available.  My frigate has approximately the same dimensions.  In so doing, however, I discovered that I DUN GOOFED with all of my model ships from earlier periods.  WHAD-I-DO?  I made them WAY TOO BIG.  The Flying Dutchman, for instance, has 68 guns, in gunports that are 1mm square, which means that they would be 1 metre square on the full-size ship.  Constitution wasn’t even that big.  In fact, it wasn’t until the construction of the iron-hulled HMS Warrior in 1860 that gunports were that big.  So, based on that, the Flying Dutchman model that I have looks perfectly proportioned, but is roughly 50% larger than she should be.  In fact, she should probably be the same size as my “English Galleon,” while my English galleon and Portugese “Caravela de Armada” should be smaller still.  So, how am I going to fix this?  I’m going to change the scales on all the suspect models from 1/1000 to 1/700, which ought to be a bit more accurate.  I may eventually re-upload properly-sized models for 1/1000 scale, but that will take a while.

The Gadfly Gun

Those familiar with Greek Mythology are probably aware that gadflies are creatures that the gods use to ruin your day.  They are either bot flies or horse flies (stories are not really clear on that), and the gadfly is best known for being used by Zeus to kill Bellerophon by biting Pegasus (in some versions of the story, in others Athena saves him).

With that out of the way, I present the Gadfly Gun.  It is the nickname given to a steam-powered, self-propelled siege mortar that the chuyinka developed.  This thing will ruin your day.  Or your fort.  Or your entire city.  Or all of the above.  And it could kill you in the process.

Gadfly gun

The gun itself looks dinky, but it has a 60cm bore, and fires shells weighing in at 2000 kg!  I based this design on the Karl Gerät of World War II, a German self-propelled siege mortar that lobbed the exact same two-tonne nasties at Allied cities.  However, the Karl Device (that’s what the German name literally means) was a logistical nightmare to operate, whereas the Gadfly Gun’s problems lie entirely in its production.  This 280-tonne monstrosity is made from two steam locomotives bolted together, with the engines themselves powering the drive sprockets.  There are four sets of tracks in a very similar configuration to Object 279.  Once built, operating this contraption is fairly easy, as it has a substantial operational range, and an on-board magazine.  Given the many different types of shells that can be used, however, separate loading vehicles do accompany the Gadfly Gun.  The primary vehicle can carry a dozen charges, but only three shells at a time.  Both the propellant charge and the shell are loaded via a telescoping steam ramrod directly behind the cab (unlike the Karl Device, the Gadfly Gun is a muzzle-loader).  Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, the coal box is at the rear, and coal is brought to the fireboxes (inside the cab) by means of augers inside chutes.

(This next paragraph has nothing to do with the model, so feel free to stop reading)  I mentioned in my last post that I might not have any miniatures up for a while.  That was a mistake, as inspiration can strike any time.  For me, a lot comes from music, and a scene from the Nine Empires played in my head as I was listening to this.  Yes, even though I am all caught up on Game of Thrones, I can’t help but sometimes put the music to the swirling images that my own brain comes up with.  A bit of mad typing and clicking later, and the Gadfly Gun came to life.  However, as of this writing, it is not yet available in my Shapeways shop.  By the way, that is not the only instance of music giving me such an idea.  In fact, yet another piece from Game of Thrones, titled “Hold the Door,” inspired an airship chase involving the ZaphnoraAeronautical Development, and Talos.  As it stands, that chase is slated to be the final chapter in book five of my series (out of nine), though I’m not writing the chapters in any particular order (hence the reason book ONE isn’t finished yet).

New Models and a Hit Logo

My Shapeways Shop now has over 150 items in it.  My most recent model as of this writing, the 151st, is also my 30th sailing ship.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have no control over what ideas pop into my head, so I’m all over the place.  I went back in time with some of my more recent models, producing a couple of floating gun batteries that predate the ironclads of the Nine Empires.

Gun batteries

And now for something completely different.  I was recently commissioned to create a logo for Vaccine Production Program Laboratory, which I am told is now a hit among the staff.  I do not usually brag about this sort of thing, especially since the design has not been formally approved, but in the interest of building my reputation, I figured that I may as well share that little tidbit.  This is the design that I sent off to Dr. Frank Arnold:

VPPL

As you might be able to tell, the overall shape is based on the antibody symbol.  I am told (by my little birds, naturally) that other entries included a syringe and an Erlenmeyer flask.  Now, assuming that my design is indeed chosen, here’s a little tip for anyone who designs logos: keep it simple, but also eye-catching, memorable, and unique.  I’ll stop it there, since I am by no means an expert on logo design.  Nonetheless, if you do that for a living, show them this, and maybe it will give them an idea.

Before I go today, I’ll leave you with a few more things to look out for.  I will likely be posting pictures of some non-miniature projects in the near future.  It’s Rennaisance Faire season where I live, and hopefully I’ll be able to make the time to go.  There is a lot to see at such events, and it should come as no surprise that I enjoy all periods of history.