Thursday, March 31, 2011

Geocaching Recap - 1st Quarter 2011

I'm in a writing mood, and we are on the last day of the quarter, so I might as well review my geocaching progress so far this year. I have mixed feelings looking back at what I have been able to accomplish. On the one hand, with all the snow and rain we have had, it feels like it has been a total washout. I just don't feel like I have been able to get out and do much at all. On the other hand, when I look back at the actual numbers, I haven't done that badly. The main difference, I suppose, is that in the latter part of 2010 I was more worried about keeping my daily streak alive, and had a whole bunch of days where I was finding one or two caches. In 2011, there have been a multitude of weather issues, so there haven't been many days that I have done anything, but I have had a number of bigger single days to help make up for it.

From a pure numbers standpoint, I have made 167 finds in the 3 months, or 56.5 per month. This is down from my 65.1 last year, but is actually better than I expected to average this year. So far so good. Earning some additional badges this year was a goal, in the sense that if I kept up my activity level, the badges would come. In reality, it is hard to say whether I have made much progress on this front or not, because a new version of the badge generation macro put out in the early March time frame changed the achievement levels on many of the badges. What I do know is this: I have found a bunch more virtual caches, I bagged another rare web cam cache on my Richmond VA trip, and I hid three more caches to get a badge for 10 hides. So those are a few achievements regardless of what the badges say.

Miscellaneous stats and numbers are captured here for me to look back at later, but nothing major has changed. It is interesting to note that by virtue of Florida and Virginia trips, my total cache-to-cache-to-cache distance has increased to over 15,000 miles (from just under 12,000). That's a lot of miles...

Work on filling in my difficulty/terrain grid and my calendar hasn't been great. I started the year with 46 out of 81 D/T combos, and am only up to 48 now. Calendar progress is a little better. By virtue of finding a cache on 46 of the possible 90 days in Q1 (mostly in January), I am up to 228 out of the 366 possible calendar dates (62.2%), from a starting point of 182. There are 93 open dates left in 2011, and it would be nice to fill half of them. This would get me to about 274 by the end of the year. 250 is probably more reasonable.

Progress on geography-based goals has also felt slow, but when I look back at what I thought was reasonable and what I hoped to accomplish, I haven't done too badly. I hoped to add a half dozen states this year, and have already added two: Virginia and Florida. The Dakotas hiking and camping trip with the boys could add another 5 or 6 states by itself. I have added one New Jersey and three Maryland counties. I have two days of fun with some friends in Gettysburg planned for next weekend, and with a little planning should be able to add about three new PA counties. So I am doing about as well as planned on that.

So all whining aside, I am on pace for what I expected to reasonably be able to do this year given the commitments of work and family. But most of all... it's still fun, so I will keep following the arrow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Riders of Rohan - Batch 1 in Process

What began as an exercise in "gee, I wonder how well this will work" has turned into a very promising way for me to actually get some of my Lord of the Rings figures painted to a decent level of quality in a reasonable amount of time. For the time challenged like me, this is the holy grail of painting.

In my prior post I detailed my game plan for painting Riders of Rohan. Having come up with a manageable set of steps that produced an acceptable quality figure, the real test would be whether I could produce a batch of figures efficiently. Happily, I seem to be able to do just that - the photo below shows 7 more figures done through stage 3. Stage 1 being priming, stage 2 basic color blocking, and stage 3 being the dip shading followed by a matte clearcoat to knock down the gloss. Knowing that the dip shading helps hide little mistakes, I was able to paint these figs to this point in perhaps a little over an hour. Only the basic highlighting and final highlighting stages remain. When all is said and done I should be able to have completed these figures in less than 3 hours. And they will look very nice. For me, that's fast.

Two other thoughts do occur to me. First, assembly lining a larger batch of figures at one time would make this even more efficient (if a little more boring). Second, I am admittedly picky about the quality of figures I like to use in a game, and I am pretty pleased to see that the shaded figures at this stage of painting (with no additional highlighting) could very easily be used as is. Finishing the bases with these figures exactly as is would still look pretty good.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oooh Shiny! - Painting a Rider of Rohan

I have loved the Lord of the Rings since reading it for the first time as a boy. When the movies were released, Games Workshop licensed the figure rights, and have produced an extensive range of miniatures in metal and plastic that faithfully depict everything as shown in the movies. Being a wargamer and such a big fan, I have accumulated a good number of these figures, but have painted very few of them as yet. Of all the different things available, I have largely (but not completely) limited myself to buying Dwarves and Goblins for Moria as well as Rohan and Isengard for Helm's Deep. I have assembled virtually all of the figures, but only painted some Moria stuff.

Ride to ruin and the world's ending!
Over the last few days, my attention has drifted towards Rohan. I caught some of the Return of the King on TV within the last week or so, and saw the scene of the Ride of the Rohirrim at the siege of Minas Tirith. With it seems to have come the apparently uncontrollable urge to paint some Riders of Rohan. So I am taking the opportunity to see if I can come up with a manageable scheme to crank some of these out quickly and efficiently while still putting out a respectable quality figure that will look nice in mass on the battlefield.

I worked through one prototype figure today, and this is what I have come up with. The key for speed on these will be a dark brown primer coat instead of my usual black, and my first full scale use of "the dip". Given the color scheme of Rohan troops in the movies, the brown primer coat will allow me to save lots of time by effectively painting the horse in one go as well as bits of the rider as well.

Apologies in advance for my persistent inability to plan ahead for proper lighting and backdrop for the pictures, but then again I wasn't planning to do this project at all. I should be painting Crusaders...

Stage 1 - Primer Coat
Figures were primed in several light coats using Army Painter's "Leather Brown" spray. This gave me a jump on stage 2, as the basic color for the horse and several pieces of equipment on the rider would be this brown color. I will remember to apply sand and grit to the bases of the other figures before priming to give me a head start on the final bases as well.

Stage 2 - Blocking in Basic Colors
The goal of this step would be to neatly but quickly paint the basic colors on the figure. This will be the prep work for "dipping" the figure in stage 3.

Undercloak and helmet - Vallejo Panzer Aces "Shadow Flesh".
Cloak - Vallejo Game extra opaque "Heavy Blackgreen".
Tunic - Vallejo Panzer Aces "Dark Rust".
Skin - Citadel Foundation "Tallarn Flesh".
Hair - Citadel "Bubonic Brown".
Armor - Citadel "Boltgun Metal".
Saddle blanket, horse harness, sword scabbard, boots, horse mane and tail - Citadel "Scorched Brown".
Primer coat of "Leather Brown" was left on the horse, bow, shin guards and quiver.

Stage 3 - The Dip
I have never done this before, but using a "dip" as a means of shading a figure certainly has a longstanding tradition in figure painting, and has become increasingly mainstream as a result of the Army Painter line of products. A "dip" is basically wood stain such as Minwax or the like in a brown tone of some sort. It is thin enough to flow into crevices and low spots on a figure to provide easy and effective shading while being thick enough to hold in those spots and not just run off like water. Some people actually grab a figure by the base, flip it over and dunk it into the stain. I chose to paint my dip onto the figure liberally using a 3/4 inch (big) brush. This was my first attempt at this, but it was easy and effective. The trick is to have a feel for getting enough dip on the figure to shade it properly while not being too heavy handed so as to obliterate it.

The dip - Army Painter Quickshade "Strong Tone".
One downside to me is that the dip dries very glossy. So much so that I couldn't continue with the painting (too distracting) until I had hit the figure with a light coat of matte varnish to knock down the gloss.

Stage 4 - First Highlight
The dip I used was a pretty dark tone, so my first highlight was in some cases applying a lighter tone to highlight certain areas, and in other cases simply reapplying the same base color to bring back a little of the original brightness of the color which had been dulled by the dip.

Clothing - The tunic, undercloak and outer cloak all used the original base color as a highlight to bring back some brightness on outer folds and exposed areas.
Horse - Citadel "Bestial Brown".
Skin - Citadel "Dwarf Flesh".
Hair - 50/50 mix of Citadel "Bubonic Brown" and "Bleached Bone".

Stage 5 - Final Highlight
These are intended to be the rank and file of the army, not display pieces or special characters, so I have no intention of lavishing a great amount of time or detail on them. That being said, one last round of highlights to make some detail and edges pop a little is in order.

Horse - Citadel "Snakebite Leather".
Undercloak - Vallejo Panzer Aces "Light Rust".
Cloak - Vallejo Panzer Aces "Italian Tankcrew".
Armor and Metal Details - Citadel "Shining Gold".
Horse tail and mane - drybrush of some light tan color that happened to be on my palette at the moment. Not sure what it was. A rust shade mixed with Bleached Bone I think.

So there you have it. It took me longer to flip through the Games Workshop books and catalogs looking at pictures to try to pick the right colors than it did to actually paint this sample figure. There is a nice little article on the GW site here that gives a step-by-step "how to" on painting one of these figures, but it is geared more towards a higher caliber of painting than I am aspiring to in this particular case. Too much highlighting and detail work, and too much paint mixing. One of the downsides of GW sticking to their own Citadel paint line is the need to spend way too much time mixing paint to fill gaps in their line. The rest of us can buy paints from other manufacturers.

Lastly, a few observations:

  • For quick and effective shading on bulk troops, "the dip" may well be the way to go. I do think I will try the shade that is one notch lighter though.
  • I have started adding Vallejo brand paints to my largely Citadel inventory and I absolutely love them! Great stuff. Nice flow and good coverage. Although at this point I have used mainly dark and neutral colors, so I am not sure how their paints in the typically difficult red/orange/yellow family perform.
  • The plastic kits for the Lord of the Rings line have some ambiguous molding that makes it a little hard to know how to paint them in places. There are spots on the figures where I am not quite sure where one thing ends and another begins. This was true on this figure, and was a consistent issue for me when I painted a box of Moria goblins a while back. Citadel's metal figures never ever have this problem.
  • I do love the Lord of the Rings. I freely admit it.
  • I am convinced that following the basic plan outline above, I can complete the other 17 Riders of Rohan that are primed and ready to go in fairly short order. Well, fairly short order for me...


I haven't been posting much recently, but I have been doing a decent bit of hobby stuff in scattered small increments. One little project was to take a batch of twenty-four 15mm Byzantine cavalry that I picked up dirt cheap at the flea market at one of the HMGS conventions and touch up the paint jobs. I think that the figs are Old Glory, but I'm not absolutely sure. The paint jobs on them were very basic and a little sloppy, but I got the batch for considerably less than the unpainted figs would have been, so what the heck.

A couple of weeks later, after a number of brief painting sessions of 15 or 20 minutes here and there I was able to clean up the overall look of the figures, fix the sloppy patches, and repaint the cloaks and some of the detail work. The result is far from spectacular, but after rebasing the figures to make three Impetus style large bases, I think they look acceptable. Close up pictures of the backs of the figures show the cartoon-like highlight exaggeration I did on the cloaks, but the effect of this when viewing these little guys on the table is what I was aiming for. I still have a lot to learn about painting 15mm figs compared to 25mm.

Hmmm. I really should repaint the shields too...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Geocaching - Northern Delaware

My wife is down in Florida for 5 days with a few friends at a nice resort indulging her passion - tennis. The kids have school today. The weather was forecast for cool and blustery, but clear and dry. All of which can only mean one thing... take a vacation day and go geocaching!

It has been a difficult couple of months as far as my geocaching goes. Lots of bad weather, persistent snow accumulations on the ground, being busy with work, and lots of kids events and activities have all combined to make it tough to find a decent chunk of time to get out and do this. Today was a chance to do exactly that.

The Plan

As I have complained about before... the area around home is not exactly a hotbed of geocaching activity, and I have worked the area over pretty well, so a day aimed at racking up some numbers needs to be accomplished farther away. Northern Delaware fits the bill perfectly, as there are a substantial number of active cachers who keep the area well stocked with things to find, and I have barely scratched the surface of what's available there. Other than the one day in early January with Dave and my girls in this area, my Delaware caching has been concentrated on clearing out just about everything north of Wilmington. The triangle formed by approximately Wilmington, Hockessin and Newark (and further south) is loaded with targets. So that's where I was headed.
Like I have done before, I printed out a map of the area, focused in on a few areas, and made sure to check and see which caches might be missing or not desirable to go after for some reason. The resulting map has a number of clusters of caches highlighted, with the specific targets highlighted in orange. Each of the areas outlined in red had an accompanying satellite photo printed out, which does wonders for finding the right side streets and places to park...

The Execution

8:15am - Grace is on the bus and I am leaving the neighborhood. I need to be back home by no later than 1:30 to make sure there is no way I am going to be late to pick up Julia. So I have 5 hours and 15 minutes.
8:16am - I realize I threw on convenient shoes to drive Julia to school earlier and am not wearing my hiking shoes. U-turn and back to the house.
8:25am - Let's try this again. Wearing the proper shoes, I leave the neighborhood for the second time in 10 minutes.
8:55am - Thirty minutes after leaving home I am getting off I-95 near the Christiana Mall. I make my first find moments later. Woo hoo! I'm geocaching!
9:00am - Second cache found a few hundred yards away in the same commercial area. The plan has the earlier part of my day being a lot of park and grabs, and the second part being more walking around in parks.
9:01am - Uh oh. As I am signing the log on the second cache, my cell phone rings and it's the nurse from Grace's school. Grace is there complaining of a cough and tummy ache and wants to come home. Ack! I've been geocaching for a grand total of approximately 5 minutes at this point.
9:05am - I've had a nice conversation with the nurse. Grace does have a cough and clearly isn't feeling 100%, but the nurse thinks that she is playing us a little bit since I sent in a note with my cell phone number on it since I knew she had been coughing a lot and wanted to make sure they knew where to reach me since Amp was away and I wouldn't be at home or work. The nurse said she would keep her in the office lying down for 20 minutes and then call me back.
9:06am - I am very disappointed. I figure I now have 19 minutes left to complete my caching day before being called back to get Grace. If I can get to 5 finds I will be lucky. I had planned for 25 in my mind.
10:00am - I am about an hour in, have found 7 caches, and the nurse never called back. Things are looking up after all. Yay for the no-nonsense nurse.
11:00am - 14 caches so far, but I am done the park and grab section and am off to Carousel Park, which has a bunch I want to do, including finding a puzzle I solved back in January and looked for in the snow but couldn't find.
11:20am - I looked for that puzzle in the snow for almost an hour and never could find it. Now I know why. I walked right up to it today. It took no time at all. But under 4 inches of snow it would have been very very tough to find. I know that NOW...
12:30pm - I have found a total of 8 caches in the park, had a nice long walk doing it, and am going to head for home a little earlier than I need to with 22 caches found.
12:45pm - OK, one more. Just one. Now I'll head for home with 23, which is where I end the day.
1:20pm - Home. Muddy. Scratched up. A little bit chilly and wind-burned. Very hungry. But a great day. I really really enjoyed getting out for 5 hours and finding as much as I could. Maybe I can find a babysitter for the girls and do it again tomorrow! Nah. That's probably not a great idea...
Some numbers for the day. 23 caches. 2 puzzles and 21 traditional. 4 regular size, 5 small, 8 micro and 6 "not chosen" or "other".

Friday, March 18, 2011

Crusades - Basing Update

Since my order of new bases arrived yesterday I have had the chance to throw together one quick sample of what a finished unit will look like. I am pleased with the results (although this one isn't actually 100% done), and can't wait to move forward with the rest of them. The figures in this particular case are mostly 15mm Old Glory with a few Essex mixed in. I like the combination of quality and price on the Old Glory figures. The Essex are a little larger and bulkier than the OG's, but are very nice figures. The down side is the price, which is significantly more than the Old Glory figs when the OG bulk discount is taken into account.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Desert Terrain

As mentioned in a prior post, most of my shopping at Cold Wars was focused on getting some ready to use terrain items for my Crusades project. It is amazing what a difference a few small additions make to creating the right look and feel on the table. I think my little desert terrain battlefield is actually starting to look like a desert. I still have a several things to work on, but I am satisfied that it no longer looks glaringly wrong. So that's a good start. I still need to work on the ground colors, but I have picked up a few quarts of different colored latex house paint and just need some time to try different combinations and experiment. This is functional and will do for now.

Dakotas Trip Planning Update

It's been a month to the day since my last post on our trip planning. Many little details have been taken care of in the interim, such as motel selection and reservations, narrowing down hike ideas, and the like. Last night Ted, Leo, Dave and I got together at my house on the flimsy excuse of needing to do some additional planning, which was true, but was just as much an excuse to get together to grill some steaks and have a nice dinner.

The only major logistical detail to be decided on was where we were going to stay for the two nights we would be in the Harney Peak area of Custer State Park in SD. There are a few campground options in the area. We settled on the Sylvan Lake campground after poking around on the internet for a little while, and were able to make online reservations for two campsites for two nights each. We then spent some time talking about hike options and other things, but spent just as much time talking about everything else.

By the time the gathering broke up and everyone headed home, I think I can honestly say that we have nothing of substance left to plan. All major logistical details have been worked out; everything that can be reserved has been. A couple campgrounds are first come first served, so there's nothing else we can do about those but show up. Other details will depend on what we feel like at the moment in question, so there's nothing to be done there either.

Now we just wait impatiently for four and a half months and try to fit in some smaller hikes around here between now and then. And wait

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cold Wars 2011 - Friday

Cold Wars in Lancaster PA this year is a Thursday to Sunday affair, but due to other things going on I only planned to attend on Friday. Since I was not preregistered and signed up for any particular games, and had become boxed in in the morning by a business meeting that I really couldn't get out of, it looked like it would even be a short single day.

My general plan was to get out of work by no later than 1pm and head straight to the show. Since February was a very unproductive month for geocaching due to horrible weather and all the standing snow on the ground, I wanted to take 2 or 3 hours on the way to the convention to grab a bunch of caches in the Lancaster area. Since I only get out that way a couple times a year, the area is still ripe with easy caches, so a few hours could get me a nice bunch of finds. After wrapping up my geocaching I would get to the show in time for an hour or more of browsing and shopping before the dealer area closed at 6pm. Then I would hang around with Chris Parker for the duration of the evening, batting around ideas for Day of Battle 4th edition and pushing some figs around to test those ideas.

The day ended up similar to that, if not exactly according to plan. I didn't get out of work until 2pm and traffic getting out to Lancaster was bad, so it was after 3pm when I found my first geocache. Instead of the 15-18 that I was hoping to get, I found 8 before needing to get to the convention in order to do any shopping at all, and I didn't want to miss that because there were a number of things on my list that I wanted to buy. Nothing urgent, but some odds and ends, mainly for my Crusades project.

The goal for my purchasing at this convention was not to buy anything that required assembly or painting. In other words, only finished game-ready stuff that could be dropped on the table immediately. I stuck to that very well. An hour of power shopping netted me two pieces of swamp terrain and two sets of "narrow muddy rivers" (all by JR Miniatures), a bag of 20 nice little palm tree clusters, two buildings from Miniature Building Authority (a castle wall tower and the Witt house), and two booklets (Extra Impetus 1 and 2 for the Impetus rules). And I still had time to spend 10 minutes or so catching up with my friend Ed Wimble from Clash of Arms Games. He was excited about the impending publication of the new edition of La Bataille de Moskowa, as am I.

After that I got together with Chris, who had remembered his schedule wrong, and was actually running his game at 7pm. I sat and watched his Stirling Bridge scenario, which was a brief and bloody English disaster (historical in other words), after which a number of us sat around and discussed the rules. It was a nice evening, and I think some promising rules change possibilities were proposed. Chris and I both agreed to write up what we think we all discussed and then try them out. I can't wait. I am going to wrap up Crusades game number 1 this weekend, and will use the new rules in the next game.

Leaving the convention at around 9:45pm, I grabbed three more park and grab caches in the new shopping center next to the convention hotel and was home in bed by 11:30pm. So while things didn't go exactly according to plan, it was a productive day. More than half of a work day, eleven geocaches, a little gratuitous spending on hobby stuff and a miniatures game. Now that I think about it, that sounds like retirement if you drop the work part...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Crusades - Reynaud's First Battle

I haven't posted much recently, but I have probably made more progress on miniatures related things than I have in a long time. That is to say I have made a little progress, which is a vast improvement over having done nothing much for many months. I have been energized with the idea of the Crusades project I have undertaken. This evening I played through one turn of Reynaud's first battle, and while I will save a battle report for later (once there is something to report), I can at least post a picture to show what I have been up to.

My Litko base order is still listed as "in production" on their website, so the troops have been pressed into service in their old partially finished green "WRG" basing. A couple of Crusader leader/banner stands have been completed. They are the small round stands behind other larger units. Saracen leaders are bare round bases with no figs.

But the progress I have made is the first attempt at a terrain board and some hills. The method I used is fine: wood glue on blue board insulation sprinkled with sand. When the sand is dry, a coat of desert color latex house paint which is subsequently dry-brushed with a few successively lighter shades of the base color. A little darker color is added in a few spots for variety. I'm not completely sold that I have the right paint colors for this, as everything looks a little too yellow for my tastes, and while the middle east is an arid land, it isn't the Sahara. I think I need to go with a little bit of a darker grayish-brown base layer and then lighter tan highlights that aren't quite as yellow. That being said, repainting will be easy, and before I embark on a more ambitious set of modular terrain boards and pieces, I wanted to test the colors. I think this little exercise taught me what I needed to learn. As an aside, I think the simple rough hill in the extreme back of the picture behind the stream may be closer to the color scheme I want for the base layer. We shall see.

Other pieces of terrain, such as the lame "oasis" at lower left and "swampy area" at back right are stand-ins for the real thing, but you have to start somewhere. Note to self: buy palm trees at Cold Wars next weekend...