Lead Testing wargaming minis

First, an apology. If I’d known I was going to write this up, I would have taken pictures of the minis and the lead test results. Lacking that, you’ll just have to trust that I read the test strips correctly. I encourage anyone to test any minis they’re concerned about, and don’t file or sand metal minis around kids.

Random weird knock off space marines of questionable origin: Lead

I tossed them, but they weren’t anything I’ve seen before or since. They resembled space marines but had vertical slats for face plates and resembled robots. May have been garage minis. Really kicking myself for not taking a picture.

Microworld Games: no lead

Agents Of Gaming: No lead

Brigade Models Starmada ships: No Lead

Scotia Grendel: Positive

Privateer Press (warmahordes): Positive (this is surprising because they’re a pretty big outfit.)

Old Questionable Fasa hex walkers: Positive

Cloud Nine’s Heavy Gear mechs: clean

Fading Suns A Call to Arms: Clean

I have a bunch of IWM things, so I tested a few

the Forestry mech labeled ‘Lead free pewter’ was indeed lead free

The Long Tom seemed clean, maybe the slightest positive?

But another seemingly new tank (probably a Shrek PPC carrier) had one of the strongest positive results I saw.

Lab Notes

I accidentally flicked a bit of vinegar/reagent mix into me eye. Owch. Washed it out pretty exhaustively… I hope.

June 2024 Web Links

Excellent This American Life episode (ThisAmericanLife.org)

If anyone could make AI spew sound good, it’s got to be Werner Herzog.

More info comes to light about the ill fated Titanic implosion sub (ArsTechnica.com)

It’s a Wired article, but Ars ran it too. Clears up a lot of the rumors and confusion around the event, such as “how was Boeing involved?”

Samples used in the C&C Series (Reddit)

The real win here though is the link to Methods Of Mayhem. Some really awesome samples and a ton I recognize from Red Alert and Red Alert 2, including many of the voice clips (including the infamous Brain From Outer Space clips used in the Yuri’s Revenge soundtrack.)

I will ****ing piledrive you if you mention AI again (ludic.mataroa.blog)

The title really says it all, this article made the rounds this month. Though it does slide in some AI X-risk stuff, so a good antidote is:

AI Doomers have warned of the tech apocalypse while doing their best to accelerate it (salon.com)

Someone put these pieces together. Admittedly, though, it’s basically doing the homework for that tweet where Altman said Yudkowsky needed a Nobel.

Penryn Space Agency

This was a great electronic music mix show. There are over fifty episodes to listen to. I don’t know the inside story but it sounds like they had difficulty getting to the studio during the pandemic. Their archives are a treasure trove of electronic music recommendations. Get them while they’re hot (and still hosted.) They do a great job of linking to the music they play so you can find new artists.

The Living Computers Museum Finally Isn’t (Old Vintage Computing Research)

This is unfortunate news for the retro-computing community. I’d always hoped to visit this place if I could ever make it out there.

Finding Deceit in the Chambers of Xenobia

A mystery reminiscent of Sour Grapes. Thanks to https://digipres.club/@ryanfb for posting this one on Mastodon.

I’m making a go of it on BlueSky (bsky.social)

I dunno, is this thing on?

May 2024 Web Links

News Related Wikipedia Drama (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia talk pages are always an interesting place, but this one is a pretty interesting discussion, because it gets at the heart of Wikipedia’s role in our evolving Truth landscape.

AI Is Breaking Google (Better Offline Podcast)

A conversation about the ludicrous ‘AI summary’ feature that google debuted recently. The juiciest bit of gossip is that the SEO community has been playing with the feature for a year prior to release and thought for sure that Google wouldn’t release it in that form because it was so busted… and they just up and did it!

Intro contains a cogent explanation of why Google’s latest move is so bad for the web and web users. If anyone has an alternate search engine they’re planning on launching, best to strike while the iron is hot!

The Batsh*t [sic] Software Aphex Twin Used (YouTube / The Flashbulb)

The Flashbulb (yes, that The Flashbulb, the guy who gave us Please Don’t Remember and The Bridgeport Run) talks about software Aphex Twin used. You probably already knew about Supercollider, Trackers, and Metasynth, but I’d only heard passing reference to CDP, for example. I wish he’d gone into a bit more depth about Supercollider and shown off exactly what sort of things you can do with it.

One thing that I found really interesting was the insight into one of my favorites; RDJ album. Tracker outputting MIDI triggering a hardware sampler, because trackers of the day couldn’t handle samples as nice as you hear on RDJ album. I suppose that suggests that HAB was using samples inside the tracker for drums and outboard synth for the melodies? At the very least it’s always sounded like someone manually playing with the cutoff in the first part of Arched Maid Via RDJ, it sounds great and it’s an effect I’ve often tried to emulate.

I’m surprised The Flashbulb considers Bucephalus Bouncing Ball the all time best. I mean it’s a great track and I love how the sweet melody sneaks in after the harsh metallic noises of the intro, then are just as quickly washed out by more crazy noodling. But the best Aphex Twin track at any given time tends to either be from his latest album or second to latest album. I’d put Rushup | Bank 12, Xmas, or Collapse up against anything from what he called RDJ’s ‘peak era’ (Windowlicker, RDJ, etc.) If anything, what the SoundCloud release shows is that the reason the Analord era sounds so different is that RDJ now feels happy (or financially motivated) to actually release (or at least DJ) more of what he makes rather than holding a ton of it back as he did during earlier eras.

A pretty good thread on The Orange Site about GraphQL

Sums up my feelings about how our attempt to implement GraphQL went back when we tried it out at SmarterTravel.

I thought we had passed the era of Peak Zoom Calls (YouTube / Detroit Free Press)

But here we are.

April/May Web Links

Might not stick with that title, but I do want to stick to the format. We’re in a period where “algorithmic” content feeds and search are becoming less than ideal, and there’s been a trend towards a smaller, more human web. I’ve long maintained a links page both as a more durable bookmark list and as a curated set of links to share. But not everything is evergreen; some things are timely, and I think a regular feature would be a more appropriate place for that. Plus it would motivate me to write a bit more, so here goes.

EV Nova Aftermath – (EV Nova Fandom Wiki)

EV Nova Aftermath was one of the most anticipated EV Nova TCs. Previously, all we had was the (defunct) Aftermath website, landing pictures, and other scattered remnants.

That all changed thanks to a friendly leak a year ago that didn’t really garner much attention. However thanks to the efforts of the indefatigable SharkyNebula, we now have pretty much everything on the wiki. I plan to write more about this and back up the resources on IA, but until then just marvel at these immaculate ship sprites. This was some of the best CGI that the EVN community had to offer, back in the day. They still look great now!

Data General Nova and Eclipse emulators (Wild Hare Computer Systems)

Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine is one of the great pieces of literature written about the computing field, and it centers on the team (lead by Tom West) upgrading the Nova into the Eclipse. Data General is a fairly obscure minicomputer company; the only one people still know by name is their more popular competitor, Digital Equipment Corporation, of PDP and VAX fame. So actually playing around with one of these wasn’t possible back in the day. But now there’s an emulator! You can even run it on a Raspberry Pi, which is exactly what I plan to do. If I get it running, I’ll write up a how-to.


For hobby modeling fans, this is a nice database of old model kits including images and enough information about them to find them via google with only a vague description. I stumbled across it while trying to figure out the provenance of a strange but very cool model kit, which turned out to be a Perry Rodan spacecraft. The model kit was purchased either at Neckers Toyland (still in operation!) or War And Pieces in Hartford (long defunct.) Seven years after War and Pieces closed, a Games Workshop store opened in the same location.

Dell HTPC thing from the aughts (youtube)

I found this video on Lemmy, interesting teardown.

World’s Fiasco of 2007 (yoyo fandom wiki)

In 2007 there was apparently some drama in the YoYo community. This would make an excellent Netflix special along the lines of The Pez Outlaw. I have no idea what the veracity of the story is and it contains some fantastical elements, but it’s also exactly the kind of foot-in-mouth emergent screwup that happens when you put enough people in a room and ask them to make decisions about how they should interact with their customers. I’d love to hear the other side of the story.


If they still gave awards for “web site design” that included little site badges for the winner, this site would deserve them all. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface with it. Be warned – I have no idea what’s lurking under the surface here.


Ed Zitron has been on a tear lately with a lot to say about the tech industry. The basic observation that we’ve been frogboiled into a truly lackluster Google search experience is a correct one.

The Sky was full of ships (project Gutenberg)

A short story by Theodore Sturgeon, in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1947. I have a very vivid memory of this story as one of the first proper scifi short stories I ever really clicked with. Reading Del Ray’s history of early scifi made me think of it again, so I figured I should save the link for next time.


A CSS framework for making Star Trek style Okudagram websites.

Dependency Injection (like pytest fixtures) with a Python decorator

If you’ve used Pytest, you’ll notice a neat little pattern. If you want a particular fixture, you just ask for it, seriously, check out the docs:

def fruit_bowl():
    return [Fruit("apple"), Fruit("banana")]

def test_fruit_salad(fruit_bowl):
    # Act
    fruit_salad = FruitSalad(*fruit_bowl)

test_fruit_salad gets called when you run tests, and it will automatically pass the result of fruit bowl to test_fruit_salad. This pretty much blew my mind when I first saw it.

The following decorator helps you achieve something similar with your own functions. It lets you do something like this.

def request_a(foo: str, *, a: int):
    print(f"Foo is {foo}, a is {a}")

def request_b(*, b: str):
    print(f"b is: {b}")

def request_both(*, b: str, a: int):
    print(f"b is: {b}, a is: {a}")


Note that the * args just mean “everything after this is a keyword argument only”, it helps guard against accidentally passing in bad kwargs and you should always use it, but the above program will work the same without it. The output of the program looks like this:

Foo is Blarg, a is 123
b is: foobar
b is: foobar, a is: 123

First let’s look at the implementation of the decorator:

import inspect

def opt_in_args(func):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        signature = inspect.signature(func)
        opted_in = {}
        optional_kwargs = {
            "a": 123,
            "b": "foobar",
        for kwarg, value in optional_kwargs.items():
            if kwarg in signature.parameters:
                assert signature.parameters[kwarg].annotation == type(value)
                opted_in[kwarg] = value
        return func(*args, **kwargs, **opted_in)
    return wrapper

Let’s look at a few specific lines to illuminate what it’s doing:

def opt_in_args(func):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):

This is standard decorator magic. The outer function has the function in-scope, the wrapper is (because we return it from the decorator) what actually gets called in place of the wrapped function, so we capture *args and *kwargs so we can pass them along.

signature = inspect.signature(func)

Note that we imported inspect at the top of the module. Inspect lets you introspect on python functions, and in this case we use it to grab the signature. signature.paremeters will now have a key for each parameter the function accepts; we can now write any code we like based on the params.

        optional_kwargs = {
            "a": 123,
            "b": "foobar",
        for kwarg, value in optional_kwargs.items():
            if kwarg in signature.parameters:

This approach is totally optional. There are any number of ways you can enumerate the optional kwargs. You can make another decorator and supply functions which are only called if they’re requested (I think pytest fixtures must be doing something like this) or you can have a bunch of ifs to decide what to instantiate and put in.

                assert signature.parameters[kwarg].annotation == type(value)

This I just put in there to show one way you could enforce typing on the keyword arguments. This is of course also optional; you could write your decorator to only care about the name by removing this line.

                opted_in[kwarg] = value
        return func(*args, **kwargs, **opted_in)

We create a dictionary called opted_in and populate it with the additional kwargs we want to pass. The final line of the wrapper function calls the wrapped function with the args and kwargs the caller sent, unmodified, and finally with the opted_in args the function asked for in its signature.

For such a slick effect, this is a surprisingly easy decorator; decorator magic often is.

San Francisco

“Enjoying ‘walks’ is sort of a cliche. I consider myself an avid pedestrian, but while technically relaxing I also see walking an act of impatience. I like bloody-minded trudges from point A to point B when other means of transport would require waiting. So to experience the famous Golden Gate, I figured the most appropriate way was to walk from one end to the other.

Photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge from the San Francisco side. The bridge takes up about half of the frame, the right side is all bay. SF Viaduct visible in the foreground.

The bridge itself was massive. Better writers than I have described its grandeur. It’s probably the biggest single thing I’ve encountered. It felt as solid as stone gazing at its cable stays, the tension invisible, but you could feel the legendary elasticity of the steel structure underfoot when vibrations from traffic rippled across its surface.

Photo: Golden gate bridge tower and main cables, from the bridge.
Photo: San Fransisco skyline and bay, from the bridge

Do I recommend crossing it on foot? Well, it’s a bit loud. The views of the city, bay, and mountains are very nice. The constant reminders that people jump off the thing were a bit spooky. The traffic tended to stay below 80db but a bit louder as vehicles hit rough patches (joints?) in the road. I wouldn’t recommend earplugs, because you’re going to need your situational awareness to avoid blocking bikes.

Photo: Presidio from Golden Gate Bridge

About halfway across, I spied a lookout on a mountain high above the roadway. ‘I am gonna climb that‘ I said to myself. As I got further, my resolve strengthened; the view was bound to be amazing.

Photo: Hill with battery spencer from bridge

I didn’t spend much time at vista point-I was eager to get to whatever path lead up that hill, which turns out to be the former home of Battery Spencer. There was a nice shortcut to avoid the road and see some wildflowers.

Battery Spencer had some great views of the bridge and the headlands, but I couldn’t help but once again gaze up! Roads cut into the sides of these mountains invited me to climb higher. Once again, I elected to press on.

The views of the mountains sweeping down into Kirby Cove were breathtaking. I really lucked out on the weather. There was a rough path beside the road. The grade was merciful, but you couldn’t escape the feeling of being at the top of a very long fall. The roadcut had changed the erosion timeline for these hills, and every inch seemed to threaten imminent rockslide. Thrilling, to be sure.

I’d told myself ‘ah, I can make it to the observation deck’ but once I got there, again, I saw a higher peak: there was a great lookout (and more treacherous road) at what turned out to be Hawk Hill.

I was starting to feel the climb then; I regretted not taking any water with me, that would have been smart. But as unplanned hikes go, at least this one was done on a full stomach. I salute the bikers who were passing me on the way up-this must have been a tough climb. The reward on the way down, I imagine, is probably worth it.

Hawk Hill turns out to be not just one observation deck with views of the city, but also an unfinished battery ‘129’ with tunnels you can enter – fans of STALKER or Fallout will enjoy the ruins here.

The very top was only a short climb away, and the view was well worth the hike. Walking the headlands was a much more pleasant experience than the bridge with its noise. Somehow the actual danger of those sheer cliffs was more tolerable than the much safer bridge plastered with memento mori.

I will admit, dear reader, that when I reached the summit of Hawk Hill I felt ready to call it quits and take a Lyft back to civilization. It was not to be, however, so I descended back to Vista Point once again on my own steam.

After recovering in Sausalito and taking the ferry back (a trip I highly recommend even if you skip the hiking) and enjoying the ferry terminal, I took a slow (recovery?) stroll through the city (go to City Lights if you can) before one more time being seized by the desire to walk up a hill.

Telegraph hill turned out to be the toughest climb of the day. I went up Filbert Street, which attacks the hill head on. After a day of lazily winding roadcuts, it was brusque to say the least.

You’ll just have to take my word on the last bit, I’d burned out my phone battery so no pictures exist!

Fine, you got me Ars, I’ll rank the spaceships myself, properly this time

I’ll admit it: This list from Ars Technica got under my skin. Perhaps it was calculated to do so – I agree that the Enterprise C is one of the coolest Trek ship designs, but I recognize that it’s a dark horse pick. Nonetheless, a discord conversation lead me to this, ranking the Enterprises. I’m not going to include any I haven’t seen, and I’m going to include other federation starships at my discretion because ‘only classes with an enterprise’ is arbitrary.

I don’t usually blog pop culture nerd hot takes, but I do have a passion for fictional scifi starship design, so if you’d like to indulge me, read on.

13. Constitution

Black-and-white screenshot of the original Enterprise against a background of stars.

There’s no saving this misproportioned relic from the goofy raygun origins of Star Trek. It’s hopeless. It looks like it would have difficulty staying in one piece if it was a model, much less an enormous starship exceeding the speed of light. Somehow the disconnected nacelles of Discovery future ships are more credible than this toothpicky monstrosity.

Many attempts have been made to make it look good, but they have failed. At some point we need to let go of the past and stop rehashing it endlessly for nostalgia money.

Now excuse me while I write the rest of this list heavily biased by nostalgia.

12. Enterprise J

Kinda cool I guess. Or at least cool-adjacent. From that one angle. It’s a one off future that isn’t nearly as clever as the more fleshed out future in Discovery while still trying to communicate the same progression we see from Constitution (big nacelles, small saucer) to Galaxy (small nacelles, big saucer.)

When seen from other angles though, you realize it’s a silly twiggy thing that’s about as sleek as a caltrop.

11. NX-01

It’s trying to be an Akira, but also look like the Phoenix (the little rocket from First Contact) and also like the Constitution. It fails on most of those counts. Everyone inside is dressed like NASA astronauts but the ship looks like a flying saucer. Or a misshapen loaf of bread. In the opening credits we see something that looks like a Lockheed Venture Star with warp nacelles. That would have perfectly matched the vibe the show was going for, but they needed it to look like every other trek ship presumably due to branding. Product of compromise I say.

10. California

The Cali is jank, but of course it’s jank. It’s supposed to be jank. That’s the whole point. It fits the story role and theme of Lower Decks perfectly. It’s the Trek aesthetic taken to a silly extent. It’s unbalanced. It’s got a weird configuration. It looks like it’s about to tip over.

Still gets a low ranking, though, because its jank is somehow more severe than the other jank. Where is your center of mass, Cali?

9. Excelsior

Big long and stately like an ocean liner. Also good looking enough that I don’t hate that it’s the generic federation ship they always use when they need another ship to avoid confusion with the hero ship. Kinda funny that it’s introduced as an unreliable heap dismissed by Scotty and later it becomes the backbone of Starfleet!

It would probably be higher if it’s elbow pylons weren’t so out of place on the otherwise elegant flowing design.

8. Intrepid

Good design overall, but the proportions are very weird and the inline nacelles never looked right. Has some good angles, some weird angles. Don’t get me started on the articulated nacelles!

It definitely sells the premise of a small under-equipped ship far from home though, a muscular design like the Akira wouldn’t have fit the bill.

Would have been pretty sick if they’d visibly patched it with Delta Quadrant tech so that by the end it looks unrecognizable, but the budget certainly wasn’t there for that.

7. Defiant

Federation BOP. It looks and flies more like the Millennium Falcon than any Enterprise. In the grand scale of Trek ships it’s more like a fighter than anything else a Starfleet captain gets to play with. It’s a runabout with all the concentrated high tech rage the Federation can muster bolted on, and wrapped snug in a hull instead of revealing its extremities. How they got around the ‘nacelles need empty space between them’ is anyone’s guess, but this is the only ship on this list that looks like it could take a hard landing and ever fly again.

‘What if Starfleet but no more Mr Nice Guy’ is not only a perfect description of this ship, but also of it’s Captain, Benjamin “For The Uniform” Sisko. That’s right, Benjamin “In the pale Moonlight” Sisko. It has the rare distinction of being the only ship on this list (to my knowledge) employed to ruin a planet’s biosphere on purpose.

6. Sovereign

They blew up the Enterprise D because they thought they could design something that looked better in widescreen.

Let that sink in.

The Sovereign has pretty good proportions but it’s a bit long (widescreen!) and looks less impressive from below. On top and on the side, though, it looks tough. It’s got the benefit of the whole TNG era development of design language plus a special effects budget. It’s sleek and a bit mean, befitting the darker, edgier take on Piccard in it’s debut film, First Contact. After it’s one action sequence, it spends most of the movie getting taken over by aliens, which is the normal occupation for a TNG starship.

5. Crossfield

You have to admire the decision to go with something so different from other Federation ships-unique design elements like the multi ringed saucer and huge delta shaped engineering hull and (eventually) disconnecty nacelles that float around adorably during spore drive jumps. It’s a bold design that signaled that the show wasn’t going to be a rehash in the way that the movie series that preceded it was.

4. Nova

The Nova takes the aggression of the Sovereign, cranks it up, and packages it all into a cute little spaceship smaller than an Intrepid. It’s design wasted on a science vessel; it would have made a better design for the defiant if it had existed a few years earlier.

I will confess some bias here; it’s one of the ships you can fly early on in Flash Trek: Broken Mirror, and it made me feel like I’d made it as a starship captain.

They also gave Harry Kim one as a joke (it’s small and they named it the Rhode Island) which is hilarious.

3. Ambassador

Remember how this started as a response to Ars’s ranking of starships? This is the part where I pretty much agree.

The Ambassador somehow manages to nail the ideal proportions for a standard configuration starfleet vessel. The nacelles aren’t too big, the engineering section isn’t too flat, everything is just right. It’s like if you asked a kid to sketch a new starfleet vessel and didn’t nerd rage when they failed to perfectly match the jank of the Constitution and the Galaxy. It’s design fades into the background like a good soundtrack.

I will confess to bias here too, because I had the micro machines version of this (as well as others) but this is the one that no adult could recall from the show and thus impose some sort of story value on it; I was free to make up my own space adventures for this little guy.

As you can see, Galoob took liberties designing this model, it’s more detailed than the studio model in some places!

2. Akira

Another tough looking federation ship. This looks like starfleet took a nod from the Klingons. The downward angled arms give it a fierce bird-of-prey visage. It has a couple of weird angles, but overall it looks great and has solid proportions. It shows up in the beginning of First Contact to represent a starfleet ready to fight the Borg after the disaster of their last serious showdown, and has some great shots executing Piccard’s plan to blow up a Borg Cube. It looks sleek and mean but still weighty which is a rare mix for a Trek ship.

1. Galaxy

I don’t care if it looks jank or top-heavy. The biggest statement it makes is: this ain’t hard scifi. It’s carrying a whole civilization around in that giant saucer. A world that the audience will love to inhabit episode after episode. So of course it’s got a big silly saucer. It still somehow looks less likely to fall apart than the Constitution.

If the constitution says ‘this is schlocky space western stuff’ the Galaxy says ‘This is high concept science fiction that we are going to take extremely seriously, perhaps too seriously for a few seasons.’

If the Defiant is the Federation’s closed fist, this is the Federation’s welcoming wave. It says “look, we mastered physics completely, but we don’t want to fight about it, we just want to party on the holodeck while we explore the farthest reaches of the universe.” And that’s the kind of optimism that Trek can, on a good day, embody.

Small Stuff

Looking back at this list, it’s interesting what stuck with me. They’re all vehicles! I guess I just find vehicles appealing. Some vehicles toys are well documented, so I won’t bore you with a repetition of the hotwheels wiki. What i want to consider today are what you might call modern “Penny Toys” are the kind of thing you’d find in a gumball machine, or on the table at the end of a party, discarded. They’re of a sort of hard to find now: not tied (legally anyway) to a franchise or character. But there’s something alluring about the mystery of trying to track down who made them, so let’s do it.

Bruder Mini: Space

Bruder is a toy company that still exists, making die cast vehicles. They no longer support their line of “mini” plastic vehicles, though they mention it in their history. There was a space line in silver, white, and blue, and more realistic vehicles in bright colors.

In Unit 01 colors no less. I’ve seen a small number of other palettes online.

I don’t know if the zany colored ones came out before or after the more common blue/white/silver ones.

Saucer in classic colors

Bruder Mini: Trains

Though long lost, I definitely had an an engine and a couple of passenger cars. Managed to find a lot of them on Ebay. They’re still adorable. They’re a neat combination of bright colors, crisp detail, and functionality. Not perfect fit and finish by any means, but at this price point, who’s complaining?

Accoutrements/Archie McPhee

These designs seem familiar

Not everyone was content to use public domain designs like flying saucers.

The easy part of figuring these out is figuring out where the design comes from-they’re mostly vehicles from thunderbirds (ignore the Star Wars one for now.)

You can see that the mold has been altered-it used to say Hong Kong but that’s been scratched out and China has been added.

The holes made them perfect to mount on Micromachine star trek stands

I initially had a tough time finding any attestation of these neat little plastic ships online. I know that at one point Accouterments sold them in a big tub (probably a gross each) but I can’t find that product photo any longer. I know I discovered this during the google era, because the models on the left are ones I purchased online.

I sent an email to Archie-McPhee, who got back to me with a link to this archived page:

Never seen the aliens before

They were called ‘alien and spaceship invasion.’ No luck on the star wars ship. I do wonder if it came from the same factory, but I have very little to go on for it. It uses a different type of plastic, but I swear the overall sensibility is similar enough. It came in a grocery store blister pack with a cooler looking spaceship with the same ‘moulded top screwed into acrylic bottom’ design, and a short knock off lightsaber type thing.


These plasticard punchouts came in randomized packs. The ink has held up surprisingly well. Influences are sometimes clear-a couple look like they’re from Cowboy Bebop, and I think I see a Droid Fighter. Classic shmups seem to have influenced these heavily as well.

We had a lot of fun building these back in the day. I managed to get my hands on some un-punched ones, remind me to scan them so you can make your own copies out of plasticard. If that’s important to you for some reason.

This product line eventually evolved into much larger more detailed models, and apparently a tabletop game.

Shackman & Co Five Piece Train Set

Five to a pack

It was surprisingly easy to find these considering I had only a single one and no accompanying documentation. I think I just searched for “small plastic train 90s” and the like.

These seemed to have a random assortment of colors. They’re four parts: two sides, top, and chassis. Very neat little pieces. All identical. They shipped in a Christmas ornament which itself looked like a train. Something about the soft shape and tiny size made them super appealing to my kid self. Always wondered if there was a whole line of these, but it’s just the one mold.

Pretty close to N scale though.

I heard you like trains so I put a train in your train

Road Not Taken: Godot’s VehicleBody in Hovertank22

It’s no secret that I’ve been captivated by trying to make vehicle driving feel good for as long as I’ve been programming. Initially Hovertank 22 (formerly OWTD) used Kinematic movement as described here. But it wasn’t quite right. I have a strong memory of how much more fun World Of Tanks was after they introduced proper physics. I decided that if a third person perspective (as oppose to top down) was going to be used, I should probably use some sort of physics.

In Godot you have at least two options: the ‘easy’ one, using VehicleBody and the hard one, using a bunch of 6DOF joints. I elected to use the former, in this barn-burner of a PR. And it… well it sort of works, I guess.

As you can see, though wonky, the Tilter is able to navigate the terrain. It’s using a single visible steering wheel in front and the tracks are represented by two invisible wheels in the back. This movement model is, of course, built for car driving games, so the trike configuration cuts into the stability badly. The requirements of “Eamonn’s Ideal Vehicle Game” and thus Hovertank 22, however, call for tanks. Unfortunately, this has major disagreements with the movement model.

The basic idea, I figured, for implementing tank movement has been to treat each track as a series of wheels. To turn right, you drive the wheels on the left side and brake or reverse the wheels on the right side. In a real tracked vehicle, this causes it to turn. In Godot’s model, however, wheel slip seems to be very all-or-nothing: the vehicle stays in motion nicely but as soon as you cut the wheel and one track slips, the whole vehicle starts to drift uncontrollably. While some amount of drifting was desired, this turns out to be unplayable. And, worse, messing with wheel slip values didn’t really help.

Editor screenshot showing how the Cobra’s wheels are configured

Another problem with this movement style was that when the vehicle was in motion, differential steering worked far more effectively than from a dead stop (I assume that this has something to do with how overcoming friction is coded.) In order to turn from a stop you need to overcome the friction of all of the wheels, so turning while stopped was impractically slow. I implemented a fix which increased power when you weren’t moving but it was unsatisfactory and resulted in a vehicle that jerked around suddenly and violently.

I suspect that customizing the 6dof version might be able to overcome these limitations, but I don’t have the bandwidth to try it. Similarly, it might be very possible to implement this sort of thing as a custom integrator and bunch of rays, but again, that was more of a lift than I had time for.

Faced with basically a negative result from this experiment, I’ve decided that I’m going to roll back (ha) from the VehicleBody approach. I may switch back to a top-down perspective, and also may try switching out heighmapped terrain for tile terrain.

So what did I learn from this little excursion? You really need to validate your assumptions about how something is going to behave before you stake a project on it. I’m glad I didn’t fully do that (I still have a path forward for Hovertank ’22), though pulling it out is definitely going to be a setback.

The Lost Continent: Australia on Westfield’s old globe

The central feature of Westfield State University’s campus is a large globe sculpture. This has been true for a while, but not always the same globe. In 2015, during the excitement around the Patriots Superbowl win, enthusiastic students cleared the benches, rejoiced on the green, and climbed inside the globe. This wasn’t the first time the campus had hosted an impromptu outdoor party of this nature – I seem to recall a similar reaction to a Redsox championship in 2013 (but it could have been a playoff game – my memory is foggy. But this time, the globe sustained major damage. The overly enthusiastic students shook the globe until it strained against its joints, and ultimately failed in several places. Tectonic plates torn asunder like something out of a disaster film.

You may notice from these pictures that the entire continent of Australia is missing. However, this was a pre-existing condition – I’m pretty sure the absent continent left a hole which allowed the revelers access to the interior. So consider this excerpt press release that the school released about the incident:

The university inherited the Globe from Stanley Home Products and it is missing the continent of Australia because it was not within Stanley’s global business reach.

Contemporary statement from the WSU spokesperson

This is an incredibly weird statement. As you can see from the first image in this article, the globe used to feature Australia. The loss of Australia running joke on campus. Rumors abound about where it ended up (which I won’t relate to protect the innocent… or guilty.) The story was, however, that it up and fell off. To my knowledge, no great effort was made to replace it.

So why make up this absurd lie? It’s so easily verified to be false – campus promotional material (including the desktop background of campus PCs, the file photo above!) contained images of Australia on the globe. Anyone who’d attended the school during or before 2011 (latest possible year it could have fallen off.) It’s just a silly idea: nobody commissions a globe sculpture missing a continent. It’s not a thing people do. Nobody would accept a donation of an incomplete globe like that.

I guess I’d never imagined that level of brazen dishonesty from an institution before. I suppose that was a very naive, 2015 attitude to have.

The author of the statement was contacted for further insight, but there was no response.

The damaged globe was replaced by a much nicer sculpture which does feature Australia.