Monday, July 30, 2012

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Selected Pictures, July 28, 2012

Mercury 7 capsule

Apollo 11 command module


SBD Dauntless

F4F Wildcat

Spitfire Mark VII

P51-D Mustang

bf 109 G-6

A6M5 Zero

It's good for the rest of us that there are those select few crazy enough to ride a tiny hunk of metal into outer space, perched atop enough combustible material to blow up a small city...

Smithsonian American History Museum

Selected Pictures - Saturday July 28, 2012
Regimental Colors - 84th US Colored Infantry

Gunboat Philadelphia

Italianate Renaissance armor

British Grenadier bearskin - American Revolution

French 4 lb Cannon

ACW - 6 lb cannon bored out for 12 lb shell
I took many more pictures than this, but these were some of the nicer items.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Washington DC - Day 2

Sunday July 29, 2012

Day 2 of our DC trip began with a free breakfast at the hotel, after which we made our way back out into the early morning heat. Having stopped at Ford's Theatre to try to gather the relevant information for the virtual cache the day before, we had decided that we would come back this morning and take the whole tour. I am very glad we did. We got tickets and had a short wait before filing into the theater itself and listening to a talk by a park service guide. It was very interesting, as it is a subject I don't know a whole lot about, and it was very surreal to be sitting in the front row facing the stage with the President's box just off to the right. I'm not sure the kids were all that impressed, but the adults liked it.

Ford's Theatre - Lincoln's box
We had 10:30am tickets for the Spy Museum, so we decided to come back and see the Petersen House (the Lincoln Death House), which is across the street from the theater, after doing the other for the kids.

I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with this spy museum, as it sounded incredibly cheesy and touristy to me. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It was a museum dedicated to the history of spying and espionage throughout history. There were displays on all sorts of different time periods, as well as ciphers, gadgets, famous events in history, etc. The very large section on Cold War spying between the Soviet bloc and the West was fascinating. They had a very impressive collection of all the different things that cameras and listening devices have been hidden in over the years, as well as hidden weapons, poison pills and disguises. What I thought was going to be something just for the kids ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.

By the time we got done in the spy museum everyone was hungry, so we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe nearby. The memorabilia in these places is always nice, but the food was pretty bad, and slow. The low light of the trip for sure.

Petersen House - Lincoln's death bedroom
The Petersen House was interesting. The wasn't too much to see, but once again it was an experience to see the bedroom in which Lincoln spent his final hours and then died. After having been shot in the theater, it was deemed too far to move Lincoln back to the White House (which isn't all that far away), so he was moved into this private house across the street.

An unexpected addition to the day was a side trip to the American Girl store in McLean VA. Grace has been very much into her American Girl dolls recently, and there isn't an AG store in our area. Since we were in another major city, she asked Mom to look up whether there was a store in DC, and the one in VA was not that far out of our way for the drive home, so we made the stop. We ended up getting McKenna (the gymnast doll) because of Grace's interest in gymnastics, especially now that the Summer Olympics are on. This was probably the highlight of the trip for her.

After getting the doll, we were back on the road, and home by about 6:30 after an uneventful drive.

DC really is a great place to visit, and something we have neglected over the years. There is so much to see, and we barely even scratched the surface. With kids in tow, I don't think we even did a comprehensive visit to the sites we went to, but that is to be expected I guess. Going in the heat of the summer is not the best time, but it is when the kids are out of school and is easier to manage. With so much left to see, I wouldn't mind going back next year, and I hope we will.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Washington DC - Day 1

Saturday July 28, 2012

My wife and I have been trying to decide on some things we could do over the remainder of this summer to get out of the house with the kids for a couple of days here or there. One of the things we had discussed was sightseeing in Washington DC. I was a little put off by the idea of it being about a thousand degrees and humid there at this time of year, but that was balanced by being anxious to get back and see some of the sights. I don't think I have been there in about 30 years, other than driving through (or around) on the way to somewhere else. We decided that it was close enough to do a simple weekend trip, leaving Saturday morning and coming back Sunday afternoon. This had the advantage of both not requiring a vacation day as well as being a cheap trip, requiring only one night in a hotel.

Capitol and torn-up Mall
We left home at 8:45am after a leisurely wake up, and hit very little traffic on the way south. We did 95 south as far as Baltimore and then the Baltimore Washington parkway between Baltimore and Washington. We crossed into DC on 50 west almost exactly two hours after leaving home, and pulled into the Grand Hyatt at 10th and H street at 11:20. Check in was 3pm but they had a room ready for us, so we dumped our luggage and went up the Grand Club on the top floor for a quick snack. Part of the overnight package that Amp had signed us up for was use of the Club, and the kids thought the idea of free snacks/drinks/desserts, etc, whenever they wanted them was one of the highlights of the trip.

The three main things that we wanted to see were the Smithsonian American History museum (for all but especially me), the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum (for all of us), and the International Spy museum (for the kids). The hotel was in a terrific location, being only about a 10 minute walk from everything (Capitol, Mall, White House, and all the museums). The American History museum was picked as first up, as it was a short walk south, and shouldn't be too bad a walk despite the mid 90's temperatures and awful humidity. The national museums are all free, so it was just a question of showing up and getting in line to get in.

Another thing that I had looked at before leaving home was where there might be easily do-able geocaches in the area we would be in, and there were many, with the Mall being littered with Virtuals. I would be happy if I could get just a couple. The first attempt at one would be as we walked past Ford's Theatre (the site of the Lincoln assassination). Ford's Theatre turned out to be just around the corner from our hotel, but we couldn't get the required information, as we would need to get into the building or do more investigating than we wanted to take the time for then.

There was a brief wait in the heat outside the American History museum, but it was well worth it. This was a place I could have spent much more time in than we did, with the kids' patience wearing a little thin by the end. Among the highlights for me were the actual Star Spangled Banner flag, and a wide variety of American Revolution and Civil War artifacts.

We then took a cab back to the hotel to freshen up and get a snack before heading back out to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I had been to this museum a couple times before, but it is still fun to see, and the planes and space artifacts were of more interest to the kids than the previous museum had been. I am still amazed that people would have gone into space in those tiny little capsules with such primitive looking controls and electronics. [Favorite pics from these two museums will be in following posts]

Dinner at Cure
I got my first DC cache, a virtual right outside the Air and Space museum door, and then we planned to walk the Mall a little for some sightseeing, but they were doing construction and the whole area around where we were was torn up and fenced off. Instead, we hailed a cab and had ourselves driven around past the White House on the way back to the hotel.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Cure Bar and Bistro in the hotel, and it was absolutely fantastic.

The kids wanted to get the dessert at the Grand Club rather than at the restaraunt, so we did that, and then made our way back to our room to watch some of the Summer Olympics on TV before calling it a night. It was a long and busy (and hot!) day, but a very good one. Tomorrow's plan is to see Ford's Theatre and the International Spy Museum for the kids before heading home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Warlord Games - A Minor Rant

I'm not sure if this is a minor rant, or more of an observation...

Warlord Games have certainly made their presence felt in the wargaming community over the last year or so, with the release of rules books Black Powder, Hail Caesar, and most recently Pike and Shotte. Being the unrepentant rules collector that I am, I had bought the first two, read through them and thought they sounded interesting (without ever having actually played them). I didn't yet own P&S, and when my friendly local game store (FLGS) sold the copy they had, I decided to order one directly from Warlord Games. They are based in England, and the shipping time of "four weeks to the rest of the world" didn't really scare me, as they are setting a low expectation that I fully expected them to exceed. Which they did, taking about 2 weeks to get the rules here along with a box of plastic English Civil War Royalist infantry. And that's where the rant/observation comes in...

I have always had an interest in the English Civil War (the 1640's one...) but have never collected any figures for it. With the rules on the way, I decided to buy some of the Warlord Games ECW plastic figure sets to work on as the mood strikes. The FLGS stocks some plastic historical stuff amongst the mountains of Games Workshop and Flames of War, and some boxes of WG ECW were on the shelf. So I pretty much bought them out, buying one each of Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry, as well as a Parliamentarian infantry box to go with the Royalist one that would be arriving in the mail. I thought it impressive that they had a pretty good range of plastic kits for Royalists, Parliamentarians (and Scots Covenanters), and supplemented the plastic kits with a wide range of metal figs as well.

Then I began assembling the figures.

I did one of the cavalry boxes first, and they were nice. Then I began assembling the other cavalry box, and everything looked really familiar. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that they looked familiar because they are exactly the same kit. They are the same exact sprues in different boxes with a different one page insert. At this point I was slightly disappointed.

Then I took a closer look at the two infantry boxes. And it's the same thing. Identical kits in different packaging with a different one page insert. At this point I was kinda annoyed.

I completely understand that in this period, the only real difference would be in how you paint the figures, so there is no real need to have separate kits... but packaging them as if they are different seems misleading to me. After seeing this with the cavalry and infantry, I went back and looked at pictures in the P&S rulebook and on Warlord's own website, and it seems obvious that the Scots Covenanter range is also not a separate range - as far as I can tell from the various pictures, the only difference in the Scots plastic kits is making sure you use the classic Scots-looking hats when building the figures.

So as far as the plastic kits goes, it doesn't seem like Warlord has an extensive range, it seems like Warlord has one range that they slap in a bunch of different packaging.

At the end of the day, does it really matter? No. Does it affect whether I will continue to support their products in the future? Of course not. But I think they would be better served if they followed the lead of other figure makers (i.e. the Perry's American Civil War kits) and simply label their product as "English Civil War Cavalry", "English Civil War Infantry", etc..., and note that they contain the components necessary to build whatever army you choose.

That would seem more honest to me. Don't pretend to be something you aren't. There's no need for it...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

English Civil War - Royalist Cavalry

Royalist "blue coat" cavalry - front
This is the first unit of English Civil War troops I have painted, and the first Warlord Games product unit that I have completed. As noted in an earlier post, there are advantages to plastic kits, and in this case, that is mainly in the variety of heads and hats that you can put on the 12 cavalry figs that come in the box. For a basic assortment of horses and bodies, the various sword and pistol arms, along with the heads, give a good variety of different poses. The figures themselves are good quality, with adequate detail, and are easy to paint.

To paint this unit, I did a slight variation on the method described earlier on my experiment with painting a "Rider of Rohan" Lord of the Rings fantasy figure. Without going into great detail, this was to block out the basic colors, wash the figure with a brushed-on coat of Army Painter "strong tone" (aka Minwax), spray it with matte varnish to knock down the gloss, and then do some simple highlighting to brighten the colors back up. Much of my painting over the last bunch of years has been medievals, so much so that I always really enjoy working on something that has some uniformity to it and can be at least somewhat assembly-lined.
Royalist "blue coat" cavalry - rear

As usual, basing still to be completed...

Sunday, July 22, 2012


This picture shows a few odds and ends for my medieval Ottomans; a unit of heavy infantry, a mounted leader and a mounted flag bearer. More of these are on the painting table at the moment. These were easy figures to paint as they are covered mostly in armor.

The opponents for these will be my Hundred Years War armies, which can serve as western Europeans circa the battle of Nicopolis. I have plenty enough of those.

Desert Scenery - Buildings

Another simple project that I was able to get through quickly was to paint the accumulated backlog of 15mm desert buildings I have picked up here and there at conventions over the past couple of years. I think every con recently has had me come home with a few more of these, and I finally reached the tipping point to get them done. These were a satisfying little project as painting buildings is a quick dry brushing exercise. A brown or black undercoat and a few increasingly lighter dry brushed layers over top, and these were all done in about an hour. (The figures and palm trees were just thrown down around the town for the picture)

Italian Wars - Gendarmes

My early renaissance armies for the Italian Wars at this point consist of half a dozen units of landsknechts (pike, halberd and arquebuss) and four artillery bases. Painting the beginnings of some cavalry to go with them has been fun. You can really go over the top with these figures, which I have not done here, but may get more adventurous in the future with the colors and patterns. The figures are Old Glory 25's.

Vampire Counts - Crypt Ghouls

I've been painting a pretty good amount over the last month or so, but I have been very lax about posting anything. I took a handful of pictures of samples of what I have been working on, and will put up a few separate posts today.

First up - fantasy stuff. This is somewhat rare for me, but as I indicated previously, I admire the Games Workshop / Citadel miniatures for what they are, and like painting something completely different every now and then. This is a unit of 10 crypt ghouls for my probably-never-to-be-completed-or-used-for-anything Vampire Counts army. These were also an opportunity for me to try some different techniques. Because of the sickly green tone I was going for, I primed these with "necrotic flesh" light green spray primer, washed them with several different shades of darker greens and browns, and then painted some detail over top of that (mainly the white bone). These went quickly, and proved to be a very efficient way to plow through this unit. I like the result very much for these rank-and-file troops. After taking the picture I cleaned up a few more details, and still need to finish the bases, but these are substantially done.

One comment on plastic kits in general, versus the metal that has been standard in our hobby for a very long time: these things take a lot of time to prep for painting. Metal figs hold fine detail much better, are quicker to prep, and have that "heft" in the hand that I miss with plastic. The plastic takes a lot more time to clean the mold lines properly, and there is more assembly. The upside is that with a relatively small range of starting components, the ability to interchange heads, arms, legs, weapons and accessories means that a wider variety of figures can be made compared to metal. Good, bad or indifferent, more and more manufacturers and ranges are moving this way, so I guess I'd better get used to it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3rd


149 years ago at this moment, the last shattered survivors of the failed Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge would have been making their way back across this open field, singly and in small groups, effectively ending the Battle of Gettysburg. Many thousands of their comrades would be dead, wounded or captured, ending the 3 bloodiest days in American history.

It is good to remember.