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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Plastic, Clippers and Panel Liners

So when I was about eleven and that games and model shop still existed on Pyle Street in Newport, my mum bought me my very first GunPla.

PlaMo is a Japanese term for Plastic Models, and thus, GunPla is the term for Gundam PlaMo - and Gundam, well... Gundam is a bit of a phenomenon.

I was a kid, and I didn't understand what any of the terms meant, or where it was from. All I knew is that the 1/144 High Grade F91 Gundam was one of the coolest things I had seen IN MY LIFE. (Note: this picture is not my work.)

All I knew was, I saw it, and I wanted it. So I built it, and I played with it, and then for about six years I totally forgot that Gundam even existed.

See, I got into the plastic before I ever got into the series - into the twisty multiverse that is Gundam, the main Universal Century storyline that spans from Amuro Ray's first encounter with the RX-78-2 prototype Gundam mech all the way up to Victory Gundam, set over 40 years later. There's the other timelines, the alternate universes in which Gundams exist, including the (rather imperiously titled) Correct Century in which Turn A Gundam (my second-to-least favourite) is set.

It's essentially about a boy and his mech. Or sometimes a man. Or sometimes several men. Either way it is usually an adventure-centric sceries involving advanced mecha, almost always called Gundams or Mobile Suits, often piloted by people that shouldn't necessarily be piloting them, struggling against the forces that be.

It was the popularity of Gundam Wing, however, that really sparked my interest in the hobby. After watching the series back-to-front, plus the movie Endless Waltz, I just knew I had to get in on some of this. I mean...look at the design of some of these.

From left to right - Heavyarms Custom, Deathscythe Custom and Wing Zero Custom.

...I mean yeah, I was a teenager. So my tastes have changed since. Either way, I fell in love with the design and the franchise all over again. It took a long time after that, though, before I started really building kits again.

I started re-watching my favourite series - the 08th MS Team, which rather than being about a boy and his mech is more like Vietnam in Gundams - a couple of years ago; and just on a whim, I ordered a little diddy dude from one of the side comics, who has always been one of my favourites. A fan favourite, nonetheless. An SD version of Gundam Astray Red Frame.

This picture isn't my work either. You can tell because this one is really well put together, really neatly panel lined, and looks great. My one kind of looks like crap.

It doesn't matter though. It was the rebirth of a hobby - and now I actually had money, time, and patience.

See, before I was pretty much popping the stuff off the sprues with my fingers and kind of cramming it all together in a vague approximation of shape. I didn't take a lot of pride in the actual finished result. Owning the article was enough. All that changed, though. I decided, if I am going to do this thing again, I am going to put things on my shelf that I am proud of, that I like looking at, and that I am not ashamed to show off.

And thus...

On the left is a Master Grade version of the Wing Zero Custom, from Gundam Wing Endless Waltz. Top right - the Ez-8 and Ground Type GM Head from 08th MS Team. Below them, the Sazabi and Nu Gundam respectively - the final weapons of choice of Char Aznable and Amuro Ray, the antagonist and protagonist of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, and all it's Universal Century continuations.

I have more. I have a pretty big To Build stack, and I do have my dream Gundams that I haven't even ordered yet. That's the nature of the hobby though.

See, taking pride in the work - using the right tools to take the plastic from the runners, cleaning them up before they are fitted together, lining them to enhance the individual details, applying the decals and stickers properly - these things give me a product I am proud of. Tiny little individual works of robotic art, that share a common universe and a common theme. They don't do anything - they sit on my shelf and remind me of the cool stuff they did in the series they were featured in.

I've always been a fan of the robots. As the intro to Megas XLR reminds us: We Dig Giant Robots. Especially Mecha - the difference being that a robot doesn't have a pilot, while a mech does.

Robot love has been a big part of my life, ever since my favourite cartoon as a kid. (TRANSFORMERS! ROBOTS IN DISGUISE!) Science fiction has always been my staple genre of choice, and especially anything that involves big mechanical stuff like this. Mecha, though - well, shows like Gundam, Macross, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Getter Robo, Patlabor and Eureka 7 use those machines to tell stories about people.

I model the outside - the mechanical shell. That's what interests me in terms of building. The stories, though, are all about people. Pride, courage, ambition, fear, love, loathing. The hope that people can see through their differences by themselves, versus the urge to force them into a new age by any means necessary. The very real lives of those fighting the war, be it against tyrannical oppression or mecha-based crime lords (or even forces beyond our reality that see evolutionary races as a threat to the stability of the universe).

So when I look at the Astray Red Frame (as captured here in the trending photomanip app Prisma)...


I don't just see a highly mobile Gundam with a big-ass sword and a cool-looking red V-fin stapled onto its pointy forehead. I see the pride and joy of Lowe Guele, fun-loving and easy-going member of the Junk Guild, whose talents with salvage and repair are legend and who trusts way too easily.

And when I look at these two...

...I see the Rx-79[G] Ez-8, the scrap-built and salvaged Gundam that Ensign Shiro Amada pilots in the later parts of the war against Zeon in the jungles of southeast Asia. Shiro Amada, who falls in love with an enemy soldier, and is viewed by the rest of his comrades with suspicion. In the background, Master Chief Karen Joshua's Rx-79[G] Ground Type Gundam - its head replaced with the head of a lowly GM's, after being taken off in Episode 9. One of the most impressive women in the entire series, a strong, dedicated soldier, who is ordered to terminate her commanding officer if he deviates from mission protocol.

There's stories behind each of them. (There's even a story behind the autobot Sideswipe in the backfround of that last picture.) It's not just the design that appeals. It's not just the article in question. It's the why, and the where, and the when.

...and it's honestly cheaper than going out on the piss every weekend. Hurts less too.

Anyone interested - there's a significant amount of material online that will reveal to you all the cool ins and outs of this franchise, both in terms of modelling, and the media in question. If you're not interested - well that's cool too, because honestly, this really isn't for everyone. This is me at my nerdiest, unless you engage me in questions of militaria, science fiction, or both. (Which this technically is, I suppose.) I just need to get saving for the next one...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

I Am Sometimes Someone Else

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," said Bruce Banner, and he was right.

Note: Bruce Banner said that. Not the Hulk. Not the raging alter-ego, the Hyde to his Jeckyll. The separation is distinct, one put there deliberately and constantly.

Those who know me, know I suffer from a variety of health issues. Pain, discomfort, a lot of frustrating bullshit. It's not ideal but I try and keep my shit together most of the time - and I like to think that, most of the time, I succeed.

There are times, though...

My dad had a hell of a temper. When he got angry he was truly a sight to behold. It didn't happen often - I mean he had his moments of frustration, but the true meltdowns of epic rage, those were once-a-decade visions of disasterous glory. He never hit me or my mother, never threatened to - but by god, did he have the potential to get angry.

His anger scared me as a kid. Like, it gave me an aversion to conflict that caused me trouble throughout the entirety of my childhood, way into my teenage years, until the age of 16 when I finally realised that - every now and then, a line needs to be drawn.

Even so. Anger, frustration, drama, overt hostility - I am still averse to it. It's why soap operas bother me, and reality television - half of the content is just people being shit to each other. That bothers me, because they're not doing it for any good reason. They're not standing up for anyone's rights, or putting anyone in their right place, or correcting a wrong. They're just being assholes.

I don't like who I am when I don't have my shit together.

One of the reasons I like music is that it lets me feel all the stuff that one needs to feel, without becoming a slave to it. Like you put on the album and you feel it all. It runs through your entire body and you are a slave to it...and then it stops and you put it away and you can get on with your day.

Personally speaking, I hate the feeling of being angry for a wide cornucopia of reasons.

For one thing I hold myself to quite a high standard of being in control of myself and my things. Knowing where my stuff is, when my appointments are, where I am meant to be and when, what I should be doing at any time. I absolutely detest when I lose something or when I forget something. Being angry makes it easy to lose hold of this kind of stuff.

I also dislike how easy it is for me to get really, really hostile and hurtful when I am angry. Like engaging in a bit of banter is okay, it's like a witty sparring match. When my blood gets hot though - the banter goes. The claws come out. I do not like myself, at all, when I am in that mood - because anyone is a fair target for me.

A third thing I dislike is how angry I get at myself for being angry, which is, yes, a very dumb thing to feel but - hey, anger is irrational. I also feel guilt. Like immediately afterwards, guilt. Sometimes enough that I feel nauseous. I know I am doing something that I am not cool with, and I am not cool with that. Not one bit.

Unfortunately...being ill makes the anger thing happen a lot more than if I wasn't. And for that, I believe I owe pretty much everyone an apology.

I try not to be an asshole unless someone deserves it, but I am painfully aware of the fact that, sometimes, the asshole comes out anyway. I overthink these things for days after the fact, and wonder if I could have just been a little less tired and a little more serene, shit would have been okay.

So I am going on record here:

If I am an asshole to you, I am sorry. I'm not going to make excuses. They are reasons, not excuses. I am sorry for losing my temper, for getting snide, for not wanting to participate or for not getting into the spirit of things.

I try to be cool. I swear. It just doesn't always work.

But that isn't the real me. That's my Hulk, my Wolfman.That's the side of me that is altered, changed.

The real me is actually kinda cool, sometimes.


Monday, 18 July 2016

Q & A - You Asky Me Talky

Hey there folks.

This week I'm doing something a bit different. I asked my facebook friends to provide me with some questions, which I, in this blog, will be answering!

I won't answer literally all of them - it's an attempt to get away from serious politics for a start - and I will remove names to protect the innocent. (Also two get mashed into one as they are kind of the same question?)

That said - here we go...

  • What do you think of the political situation in the UK at the moment? ;) - Ah see, tried to catch me out there...but see above for a pictorial demonstration.
  • If you were allowed to create a new animal, what would its characteristics be? - Chameleon-like colour-changing scales, a toxin that attacks cancerous cells, a generally sweet demeanour and BIG ASS WINGS. Oh yeah and it is like the size of a cow and herbivorous.
  • Favourite combination of 3 ingrediants - Tortilla chips, cheese and chilli con carne.
  • So I heard you like to write stuff so how about a challenge: write me a 500 word story about an owl & an elephant going on a treasure hunt in a jungle, but finding something with far greater value.. -
    Once upon a time, Owl and Elephant went to the jungle. They were looking for treasure, in order to buy the precious things they saw in the Big Town. Elephant put on a backpack, and into it they put a selection of food and drink to keep themselves healthy while they were away. So, thus prepared, off into the jungle they went.

    The first thing they came across was a river, which Elephant didn’t like the look of at all. “Don’t worry,” said Owl. “I will fly up and down the river and find a way for us to cross.” So up and down he flew, until he found a fallen tree large enough to support Elephant - and so they went. They decided to camp, but Owl needed a tree to sleep in, and all of the trees were too small. Only one was large enough to suffice, and it had fallen. “Don’t worry,” said Elephant. “I will lift it for you with my mighty tusks.” This, Elephant did - and so Owl had somewhere to sleep.

    Refreshed and ready for the next day’s challenges, they hiked through the jungle, looking for any sign of the treasures that were rumoured to be there. It was as they hunted for gold and jewels, that they came across a poor exhausted squirrel, hiding under a fallen tree. It looked so sad and dejected, that Owl refused his usual instinct to snap up the little creature, and instead, helped Elephant put the tree back up - for as we all know, squirrels live in trees. The squirrel was so grateful that it offered them the only thing it possessed - acorns. Several acorns, in fact. And while Elephant and Owl couldn’t eat them, they kept them, and were thankful for them - for they needed something to throw at an encroaching tiger, to dissuade it from devouring them whole.

    In the end, they came across a cave. “This must be the place,” said Elephant with a happy flex of his ears. “There MUST be treasure in here.” So into the cave they crept, as quietly as an Owl and an Elephant could - and in the cave, they found nothing. Nothing but a small mountain of acorns.

    Feeling somewhat glum, the two friends sat down, looking at the pile of acorns. “We can’t buy much with these,” said Owl. “Not much at all.” Elephant shrugged a little and got up, before - after a moment’s thought - stuffing the acorns into their now-half-empty backpack. “I know someone that might like them, though,” Elephant said.

    The squirrel was incredibly grateful for the haul of acorns. He chittered with joy, and was so delighted that he promised Owl and Elephant that - if he ever saw treasure - he would come and find them and tell them immediately.

    Squirrel never did see any treasure - but he did take to visiting Owl and Elephant regularly. The three remained the best of friends for the rest of their days, and sometimes - on golden sunny afternoons - they would reminisce about the treasure hunt of their youth, and how it had taught them the most valuable lesson of all.

    Squirrels don’t live in jungles.

    They aaaaaall drank Lemonade. The end.
  • Pokemon. Annoying stupid game vs the fact it is actually getting people out of the house and walking about. (Or "ingress" as Pokemon is using the mapping and portals well most of them for it .... It way more interactive and actually has a background) - Okay so. Pokemon Go. Some people are going to dislike something simply because everyone else seems to talk about nothing BUT the thing in question. I can understand that. The game itself - well, I've been out more over the past weekend than I have in the past three weeks combined, just for no other reason than to catch Pokemon. It's not exactly Axis & Allies but I would hardly call it stupid. It owes literally EVERYTHING to Ingress - but it was always going to do better, simply because everyone knows Pokemon. (And who doesn't want a Psyduck? Seriously.)
  • How do you get your whites so brilliant white - There's a fat sweaty man tied up inside my basement. The secret lies within his pancreas.
  • How would you personally help get rid of the body...? - Big plastic tub and some homebrew acid. Give it a week, then fifty-fifty with an alkali and into the drain it goes.
  • If you could go back in time and change literally anything in he history of mankind, what would you change, to what effect and why? Go...... - That's a really hard question. I think I would probably try and alter the perception of wealth and priviledge throughout the ages in some kind of attempt to make the world a better place, but I can't think of only ONE thing that would actually achieve that...
  • Or you could talk about cheese. I looooove cheese. Your choice - OH GOD I LOVE CHEESE umm I like brie and camembert and cheddars of most sorts and all sorts of other stuff...
  • What's been the biggest life lesson you've learned over the past year? - There's some minds you literally cannot change, even if they are literally and objectively incorrect. Strength isn't enforcing your will upon them - strength is accepting that and continuining with life anyway. As my dad always used to say...pick your battles.
  • What's the name of the big lizard in Godzilla? - Anguirus.
  • On the way 'geek culture' has risen and evolved over the years. How the public misuse terms and social identifiers like 'Nerd' and 'Geek' in the wake of tv shows like Chuck and Big bang theory? Maybe? - It's easy to sell both of those labels to their stereotypical extremes. Like, people laugh at Big Bang because the geeks are so geeky. Like, to actually offensive extremes. And then you have the normal folk - which is Penny. Who is presented in such a NONgeeky way that it actually becomes offensive. Like the entire show is just a big ring of fuck you to everyone on that "spectrum". Geek culture has become a definition so wide that it's hard to imagine how anyone WOULDN'T fit in it...
  • Or what the big moth was called in Godzilla. - Battra.
  • What type of animal was Yogi Bear? - A cartoon.
  • What's the best song ever? - This is a difficult question. My favourite song ever is Pearl Jam's Alive, but I don't think it is the best song ever. Music is a vast spectrum of aspects, and to specialise in one detracts from another. So we have to really look at a song whose lyrics are competent and artful but not over-wrought, whose music is accessible and memorable without being too simplistic, whose melody is impactful without gimmicky. All of that being said, in my personal opinion... the best song ever is, for me, Innuendo by Queen, from the album of the same name. Just listen to how it transcends the genre, how the guitar soars and screams, how the lyrics catch the imagination. Not a shred of sound wasted. Worth every penny.
  • Favourite muppet. and I'm not talking members of parliment :P - GONZO THE MAGNIFICENT!!!
  • Which computer game of your youth has influenced your adult life the most, and why? - Hard to say but if I had to pick any one of them, it would probably be one of the classic SNES RPGs - Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger or Secret Of Mana. All of them feature traits that I find really admirable, at various different points - and showed me traits that I find to be despicable. Edgar's commitment to those under his care, Crono's courage to the last, Frog's fortitude - who couldn't take a lesson from that?
  • Birthdays: milestone or millstone - Depends. Honestly for me it's just kind of a meh thing...
  • Also, what's the name of the biggest twat that works in my room? - I couldn't PIERSibly comment.
  • What happened to the candles? - THEY WENT IN THE BIN I'M SORRY *helpless sobbing*
  • Who keeps blocking the toilet at the house? :-D - The last time it was SOMEONE who got a tattoo and forgot that strong paper towels can't be flushed. (No it wasn't me.)
  • What are the chances in life you’ve passed up on that you regret? - There's a few but not a whole lot. I regret not pushing myself harder in school. I regret giving into the things I gave into in the darker periods of my life. I regret trusting some of the people I trusted, and not trusting some of the people I didn't. Nobody can go through life without regrets though. Simply not possible.
  • When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you have done? - It depends what one defines as done, really. I've survived a lot, and I think that counts as doing. (That's an Aesop misquote, isn't it?)

...that was a lot of fun, you know? I'll have to do this again sometime...

Tune in next week for our regularly scheduled politics, economics, philosophy and bollocks.

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Big Red Button

Why do we need Trident?

It has been thrown back into my consciousness primarily due to Conservative leadership hopeful Theresa "Darth" May, who states it would be "sheer madness" to not renew it. She argues in much the same vein as all the other proponents of Trident - that we may need it because other people have (or may acquire) nuclear weapons.

I present to you two dictionary definitions taken from Collins.

MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION - noun. Mutual deterrence between countries possessing nuclear weapons, based on the capacity of each to inflict major damage on the other in response to a first strike.

TERRORISM - noun. 1. Systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve some goal. 2. The act of terrorizing. 3. The state of being terrorized.

Compare and contrast.

Nuclear armaments do not prevent terrorism. This is widely known and widely documented. The list of countries known to be nuclear-armed is as follows:

  • United States (3,281)
  • Russia (1,841)
  • United Kingdom (455)
  • France (190)
  • China (248)
  • India (1,629)
  • Pakistan (2,468)
  • North Korea (Unknown)
  • Israel (363)

The number that follows each nation is the number of individuals documented as casualties of acts of terrorism since that country developed nuclear weaponry. North Korea is, understandably, difficult to acquire statistics for. These figures are in and of themselves very conservative - I only drew the data from a tight definition which could easily be broadened.

Thus it seems that the threat of violence does not prevent terrorism (which in itself is meant to be a threat). How effective is it at preventing actual nuclear strikes? Arguably, very - as since more than one nation developed a usable nuclear weapon (or similar), there have been no recorded nuclear attacks - though is that because the target has the same weapon, or because the weapon itself is too terrible to consider using when a legion of drones / platoon of Spetznaz / wave of air strikes will do?

And as we all know that the weapon in itself is terrible...wouldn't it be distinctly moralistic to get shot of it? And thus amoral to keep it? I mean seriously, not a single one of us believes that using a nuke is anything but monstrous.

So are we really keeping Trident because we believe it will stop another nation using a nuclear weapon against us? Because...well, that's kind of terroristy (if we go with the definitions previously listed), and also, farcical.

Comparable scenarios include training legions of suicide bombers and keeping them in warehouses to prevent terrorist attacks, a bank having a bunch of filled out share-purchase documents to prevent other banks buying THEM out, and keeping an ice cream in your fridge so the ice cream van doesn't come to your neighbourhood.

Because, you see, it is not a preventative. It is a threat - and if a country is merciless enough to consider dropping a nuke, then it is probably not going to care too much if you drop one back.

So instead - why don't we have an ACTUAL preventative? Like a system of stopping nuclear weaponry from being able to target us? Like I know we can only stop a nuclear suitcase with boots on the ground but if we can stop ICBMs and aircraft then we are 90% of the way there, surely.

Rather than replacing this (as previously stated) monstrous weapon system, which in and of itself is a ten-figure stab of megaton vengeance rather than an actual protective measure, let's spend all that money on research into other means of detecting and thwarting nuclear assault. Laser tech, solid munitions, advanced sensory and targeting hardware. Think of how the research and development in those areas can also be used in other fields, too. Instead of dropping however many billions of pounds it requires to refit and rearm four dusty spite-submarines in a show of economic vindictiveness that would make Nicolo Machiavelli giggle with glee, we can actually sink money into something that will not only help us in other ways, but render nuclear weaponry irrelevant.

So we won't have to care if the next cultural boogieman acquires a briefcase of high-grade glowy. We won't have to further aggravate the already thinly-stretched bonds of friendship between ourselves and - let's say for sake of argument - Iran, by insisting we poke around in their nice new reactor. We won't have to slave ourselves to this same arms race which threatened all of us with total armageddon for so many years. The amount of resources that would be freed up by the world not needing nuclear weaponry any more...can you even imagine?

Earlier this year the US was slated to spend one trillion dollars on renewing its nuclear system. ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. To indicate how much money that is, you need to understand that the federal budget of 2015 spent 3.7 trillion dollars. It will cost the United States of America over a quarter of how much it spent last year to renew weapons it only keeps around to make sure nobody else uses theirs.

Screw our multi-billions. Try imagining how much hard science and technical development you could do with a trillion dollars. I bet you can't even imagine what a trillion dollars can buy you. (I actually did a blog about it.)

So, Theresa it really sheer madness? Or are you just afraid that we won't be part of the "big boys club" of nations that would rather their people starve than be unable to kill hundreds of thousands of people at the push of a button?

I think that's what this is really about. We want to look like we're still a player. We want to pretend we can ruck up with the best of them, try and punch above our weight. Try to be somebody more than our creaking infrastructure allows us to be.

It's just insecurity, pure and simple. Rocket envy.