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The announcement of the discovery of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri is absolutely fascinating; we finally have a (roughly) Earth-size world orbiting in the (notionally) habitable zone of a (by astronomical standards) close star. There's been a lot of speculation about what Proxima b might be like, but one description I saw didn't quite ring true: the picture one article painted of Proxima Centauri, a relatively dim red dwarf, hanging in the sky like a dull glowing ember. It's a faint star, true, but it's still a star, so how bright would it seem from Proxima b?

To start, some basic data.

Proxima Centauri is visual magnitude 11.13 and is 4.25 light years away. Its diameter is 0.141 x that of the Sun.

Proxima b orbits at 0.0485 astronomical units.

1 light year = 63,241 AU, so Proxima b is closer to Proxima Centauri than we are by a factor of

(4.25 x 63,241) / 0.0485 = 5,541,737, or 5.54 x 106

This means that Proxima Centauri's brightness from Proxima b, as compared to Earth, will be increased by this factor squared

= 3.07 x 1013 times brighter

Converting that to stellar magnitudes gives us

2.5 log (3.07 x 1013) = 33.72 magnitudes brighter

So, the visual magnitude of Proxima Centauri from Proxima b would be

11.13 - 33.72 = -22.59

Now, the apparent visual magnitude of the Sun is -26.7, so in comparison to the Sun, this is

-26.7 - (-22.59) = -4.11 magnitudes fainter

That corresponds in actual brightness ratio to

10(-4.11 / 2.5) = 0.0226 = 1/44

So from Proxima b, Proxima Centauri would look 44 times less bright than the Sun does from Earth.

At first, that might seem surprising; after all, isn't Proxima b meant to be in Proxima Centauri's habitable zone? Surely that means that it ought to be getting the roughly the same energy from Proxima Centauri as we get from the Sun? Well, it does - but far more of it is in infra-red rather than visible, because Proxima Centauri is an M6 class red dwarf with a surface temperature of about 3,000K, whereas the sun is a G2 yellow dwarf with a surface temperature of 6,000K. Standing on the surface of Proxima b in daylight would feel as warm as standing in daylight does on Earth.

It wouldn't even look much darker. A factor of 44 times sounds a lot, but that corresponds to a dull overcast on Earth. Day on Proxima b would still look like day, although a bit odd.

But back to the question of how bright Proxima Centauri would look. It is much smaller than the Sun, but Proxima b is proportionately even closer to it than we are to the Sun. The ratio in apparent diameter is

0.141 / 0.0485 = 2.9

- Proxima Centauri is nearly three times larger in angular diameter in the sky than the Sun is for us. That means it occupies the square of that in terms of area of the sky

2.92 = 8.45 times the area of the Sun

This means that the brightness of Proxima Centauri is not only 1/44th that of the Sun in our sky, but is spread over 8.45 times the area, so the apparent surface brightness is reduced even further

44 x 8.45 = 372 times less bright per area of sky

That, mind you, is still very bright. To put it in perspective, the full moon is 14 magnitudes less bright than the Sun, or about 400,000 times. In terms of apparent intensity, Proxima Centauri as seen from Proxima b would still be a thousand times brighter-looking than the full Moon seems. Bearing in mind that you would see it in a rather dimmer sky, I suspect it would look to all intents and purposes as bright as the Sun does from Earth.

This isn't surprising. 3,000K is still way past red-hot by normal standards. In fact, heat something to that temperature and it will be white-hot to the naked eye. 3,000K is about the temperature of the filament of an incandescent light bulb, the light from which looks white unless you are comparing it to sunlight (when, as photographers know, it looks yellowish by comparison).

So, Proxima b won't have a 'glowing ember' in the sky. It will have a sun that would look at first glance like our own. It won't be as intense - in fact, I'd hazard a guess that you could probably look straight at it without discomfort - and it would be noticeably bigger in the sky, but it would still seem like a big white-hot thing.

Photography will be a pain, though. What would be a picture at f/16 on a sunny day on Earth will have to be taken at about f/2 on Proxima b - and remember to set your camera to 'indoor tungsten' light temperature.
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Remember that rather spaced-out picture of Nelson I posted yesterday?

Nelson_1stWk - 2.jpg

Over on Facebook my friend Ewan (WINOLJ) ran it through Prisma, a new app that sends a picture up to a server where it's apparently run through some neural-net software trained to try to emulate various art styles. The results were quite impressive so I downloaded it onto the iPad and had a go myself.

Twelve variations on spaced-out Nelson )

Several of these I'd like as artwork. And third row middle looks like an excerpt from a graphic novel I'd love to read.
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Nelson, after a week with us. He's definitely bigger than when he arrived only eight days ago. I'm not surprised, because he's been scoffing his kitten kibble as if it's the last food on Earth.

More kitten pics )Introducing Nelson to Mira is something we're taking slowly. We've split the house in two; Nelson has the ground floor utility room and the first floor study, whilst Mira has the first floor bedroom (her litter tray is in the en-suite) and the upper floors. I've set things up so there's a wooden sheet blocking access, so they can't get to each other or even see each other, although I only trust that if we're around - at night or if we're out, Nelson gets shut in his room (which is not too small and has natural light, his food, and plenty of toys.)

We started with letting them see each other from a distance, and have worked up to having Nelson in the cat carrier in the same room as Mira, or sitting on my lap (firmly held!) with Mira nearby. Mira has progressed from hissing at him on sight to only hissing when she comes up close to him. Nelson is utterly unfazed by all this, but then he comes from a rescue centre / cattery where he probably saw dozens of other cats. The next step will be to let them meet under careful supervision, although that is likely to involve Mira making it very clear where her boundaries are...
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BBC: 'Zombie knives' ban to come into force

I'm clearly not down with the street, because I didn't realise that 'Zombie knives' were a thing, or that there was enough of a problem with them that the government was instituting a ban on their sale or import. A friend of mine wonders if this ban would include the Bat'leth, the iconic Klingon multi-bladed weapon from assorted Star Trek series, replicas of which are apparently quite the in thing for some Trek fans.

I readily admit to not having done any criminal law for about four years, but I like to think I still understand the general principles and the basics of how to follow and interpret legislation, so here are my thoughts on what is actually happening and whether it will indeed Ban the Bat'leth.

To understand what the government is doing, we first need to understand the law in this area.

Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 bans certain acts in respect of 'offensive weapons'. These include the manufacture, sale or hire of them, having them for the purpose of selling or hiring them, or lending or giving them to someone (s.141(1)). It also bans the import of them (s.141(4)). There are various defences, for instance in respect of weapons in museums (s.141(9)) or ones used for film, TV or theatrical productions (s.141(11A-11C)).

But what is an offensive weapon in this context? Well, as is often the case with primary legislation (i.e. Acts of Parliament) the law has a provision that says 'we create the power for the relevant Minister to specify this separately', and sure enough s.141(2) provides this.

The actual bit of law that does the specifying is a statutory instrument (SI). An SI is a law made under the authority of an Act of Parliament but which is not debated in the same way as an Act (or rather, the Bill that becomes an Act). Most are subject only to 'negative resolution' meaning that unless the draft is objected to within 40 days they become law. Some, if the Act authorising them requires it, must be approved by both Houses of Parliament, but the approval is a simple yes/no affair rather than the extensive review and debate of a Bill.

Here, the SI in question is the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988. I've not linked to the online version of that at legislation.gov.uk because whereas Acts on that site are (albeit often belatedly) amended to reflect legal changes, it seems that SIs are published only in their original form. If as a lawyer I want the current version of an SI, I have to use a subscription service such as LexisNexis. However, given that this is a pretty important bit of legislation, the government does publish information on the current version of the law, and it is set out in this document (PDF): Knives and offensive weapons information.

This tells us that the Schedule to the 1988 SI, which defines 'offensive weapon' for the purposes of s.141 CJA 1988, is currently as follows:

a) ‘a knuckleduster, that is, a band of metal or other hard material worn on one or more fingers, and designed to cause injury, and any weapon incorporating a knuckleduster;
b) a swordstick, that is, a hollow walking-stick or cane containing a blade which may be used as a sword;
c) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘handclaw’, being a band of metal or other hard material from which a number of sharp spikes protrude, and worn around the hand;
d) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘belt buckle knife’, being a buckle which incorporates or conceals a knife;
e) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘push dagger’, being a knife, the handle of which fits within a clenched fist and the blade of which protrudes from between two fingers;
f) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘hollow kubotan’, being a cylindrical container containing a number of sharp spikes;
g) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘footclaw’, being a bar of metal or other hard material from which a number of sharp spikes protrude, and worn strapped to the foot;
h) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘shuriken’, ‘shaken’ or ‘death star’, being a hard non-flexible plate having three or more sharp radiating points and designed to be thrown;
i) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘balisong’ or ‘butterfly knife’, being a blade enclosed by its handle, which is designed to split down the middle, without the operation of a spring or other mechanical means, to reveal the blade;
j) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘telescopic truncheon’, being a truncheon which extends automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to its handle;
k) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘blowpipe’ or ‘blow gun’, being a hollow tube out of which hard pellets or darts are shot by the use of breath;
l) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘kusari gama’, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a sickle;
m) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘kyoketsu shoge’, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a hooked knife;
n) the weapon sometimes known as a ‘manrikigusari’ or ‘kusari’, being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at each end to a hard weight or hand grip;
o) a disguised knife, that is any knife which has a concealed blade or concealed sharp point and is designed to appear to be an everyday object of a kind commonly carried on the person or in a handbag, briefcase, or other hand luggage (such as a comb, brush, writing instrument, cigarette lighter, key, lipstick or telephone);
p) a stealth knife, that is a knife or spike, which has a blade, or sharp point, made from a material that is not readily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal and which is not designed for domestic use or for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food or as a toy;
q) a straight, side-handled or friction-lock truncheon (sometimes known as a baton);
r) a sword with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over in length; and for the purposes of this sub-paragraph, the length of the blade shall be the straight line distance from the top of the handle to the tip of the blade.’

All in all, quite the Mall Ninja wish list.

Now, what the government has just done is to get Parliament to approve the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2016 (link to PDF). This amends the 1988 SI (which has already had a few additions, it seems) to add the following to its already impressive list:

“(s) the weapon sometimes known as a “zombie knife”, “zombie killer knife” or “zombie slayer knife”, being a blade with—
(i) a cutting edge;
(ii) a serrated edge; and
(iii) images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence.”

The first point I'd make is that the law (via the list in the 1988 SI) is not broad or vague. In fact it is extremely specific, setting out a number of very closely and carefully drafted definitions. The wording of the Schedule to the SI does not say 'includes the following...', it says 'shall apply to the following'. In such circumstances, there is a long-standing rule of statutory interpretation, so old it's referred to by its Latin name 'expressio unius est exclusio alterius', i.e. 'the express mention of one thing excludes all others'. This is in contrast to the rule for interpreting laws of the form 'A, B, C and all similar things' which is 'ejusdem generis', or 'things of the same kind or class'.

What this means is that the SI will only ban a Bat'leth, or any other weapon, if it falls clearly within one of the express definitions provided. Since none of the existing definitions cover it (I think (r), which is clearly aimed at Samuri swords, would have to be stretched too far), we have to ask if the new (s) does.

(s) has three elements, which are expressed conjunctively, i.e. all must be present. A Bat'leth certainly meets (s)(i) in that it has a cutting edge. But the ones I've found pictures of lack a serrated edge, so don't meet (s)(ii). Nor do they have images or words suggesting that they are to be used for the purposes of violence. After all, if you know what a Bat'leth is, you don't need THIS SIDE TOWARD ENEMY TO BE DISEMBOWELLED' written on it.

(Interesting question here: what if it bore a threatening inscription, but in Klingon? I've not looked in detail at this, but presumably such words would have to be in a form that a person likely to see them would understand. That probably rules out most people against whom a replica Bat'leth might be used.)

So, I do not think that this new provision will ban the Bat'leth. But what about so-called 'Klingon knives'? Do a Google image search for 'klingon knife replica' and you will see some items I certainly wouldn't want to have waved anywhere near me? Well, I think many of them would meet the (s)(i) and (s)(ii) criteria, but again there's the question as to whether the bear images or words suggestive of violence, and it seems to me they don't.

This does not, of course, mean that it is legal to wander down your local high street brandishing or carrying a Bat'leth. Unless clearly a harmless replica, it would be an 'offensive weapon' under Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which defines this at s.1(4) as "any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him. Carrying such an item in public, other than with lawful authority or reasonable excuse (and you'd need a good one) is, by s.1(1), a criminal offence. Threatening someone with it, by s.3, is an even more serious offence. Indeed, in 2009 Mr David Hellen, of Billingham, pleaded guilty to carrying an offensive weapon after walking through a local street with what was described in court as a Bat'leth, although from the pictures seems to be a weird hybrid of all the sorts of Klingon bladed weapon I've referred to. He got 13 weeks' imprisonment as a result.

In short: this won't ban the Bat'leth. It might ban some so-called 'Klingon Knives' if they bear words or pictures suggesting violence. But walking down the street with a Bat'leth is already liable to get you into a lot of trouble.
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Following on from my Stranger Things review, and [livejournal.com profile] a_cubed's comment about the title sequence, there's a detailed deconstruction of it at Art of the Title, complete with a lengthy interview with the creative director of the animation company that produced it.



I'd immediately picked up the visual reference to Stephen King horror novels of the 1980s, but I'm delighted to find out that the animators studied the kind of glitches and compositing defects that might have arisen using 1980s techniques to create such a title and deliberately incorporated them.
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(Netflix streaming, 8 x 45-min episodes released en bloc.)

Recently we were treated to Deutschland 83, a Cold War spy drama that attracted much praise for its evocation of 1983 Germany in a positive nostalgia-fest of music, fashion and cars for anyone who remembers the era. Now we have Stranger Things, a drama that is a veritable hymn to every horror/sf film, tv series or book set in early 1980s small-town America.

(Odd trivia point: the events of Stranger Things take place over a few days in November 1983, at almost exactly the same time as EX ABLE ARCHER and thus the final couple of episodes of Deutschland 83.)

Stranger Things has been described as very much a homage to the works of Steven King, John Carpenter and Stephen Spielberg, although the work it very much put me in mind of was Dan Simmons' Summer of Night, with a group of pre-teens faced with supernatural horror in a Midwest town. Without giving too much away, Stranger Things sits closer to the sf rather than supernatural end of the horror axis, although it's careful not to explain everything (and there is certainly plenty of scope for a second season.)

Winona Ryder is superb as Joyce Byers, mother of Will Byers - one of the group of D&D-playing proto-nerds the show centres on - whose disappearance drives the plot. Her depiction of someone who's fully aware that her behaviour looks just like paranoid psychosis, but doesn't care because she know's she's right, is as compelling as it is horrifying. Of the young actors, all are excellent; I'm sure many of the show's fans recognise elements of their younger selves in the characters of Mike, Dustin and Lucas, whilst the show's real breakout role is 12-year-old Millie Bobbie Brown as 'El', the near-mute, shaven-headed girl whose appearance is as mysterious as (and quite obviously connected to) the disappearance of Will. Combining an intensity beyond her years with an awkward naiveté, she perfectly conveys a character struggling to cope both with an outside world she has never experienced and abilities she barely understands.

Stranger Things isn't perfect. The sets for the more sf/horror elements of the show vary from impressively well-realised to looking all too much like Doctor Who of the era it's set in, and for a show that is so dense with reference to horror movies of the era you find yourself shouting at some of the characters "Haven't you seen Alien?" But I can forgive Stranger Things that, as I forgave Deutschland 83 its habit of making its central character the beneficiary of some of the most unlikely turns of good luck so as to get him out of the scrapes the plot dropped him in to. Both series are as enjoyable both for the evocation of an era as for their plots, and if I'm in the ideal target audience for Stranger Things then certainly so are many of my friends. If you've got access to Netflix, give it a go - but be prepared to binge, as you won't want to be waiting to find out what happens next.
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Mira has been increasingly clingy the last few months, and has taken to wandering around with one of her toys (a strip of fur) in her mouth in a manner that practically screams "I miss kittens!". The vet's suggestion was that she needed company, and he thought that a 10-12 week old male kitten would probably be the best prospect for integration, as long as we took it very slowly.

This has been in the planning stages for a couple of months now, and via a local rescue centre recommended by our cat-visiting service we were introduced to Nelson. He was apparently found in a shed (the centre suspect he was left behind when his mother was moving a litter) but was raised with other rescue kittens and is now about 3 months old. He is very active, inquisitive and friendly, and whereas Mira took a couple of weeks to warm to me, Nelson was climbing on me within ten minutes of us getting home.

He's currently ensconced in our downstairs utility room / bathroom, so we can keep him apart from Mira to begin with. The idea is that they can get used to each other's scents via us, and indeed Mira has just given me a very, very thorough sniff and scent-marking after I was playing with Nelson. We will start very minimal introduction in a couple of days and see how it goes. In the mean time, here are the first of what will probably be terrifying numbers of Nelson pics.

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I've already posted my Red Arrows pics from the Cosford Airshow, but I took a lot more than just that. As well as the flying display, there was a lot to see on the ground too.

The RAF Museum at Cosford has a lot of historic aircraft, including some unique experimental and development planes. One of the nice features of the Cosford Airshow is that every year the organisers and the Museum wheel some of these planes out of their hanger and onto the flight line so you can imagine them as they were in their heyday.

2016_Cosford_Airshow-26.jpg

This is the Avro 707C. If it looks like a miniature Vulcan, that's because it was developed to test the flight characteristics of the Vulcan's delta wing.

Lots more aircraft! )

Now to sort through the photos of Flying Stuff Other Than The Red Arrows.
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I have literally hundreds of pictures from Cosford on Sunday, but I've started sorting through my pictures of the Red Arrows display first. The cloud base was rather low so the team flew the 'flat' display (no loops) but it was still as spectacular as ever.

2016_Cosford_Airshow-511.jpg

I am rather pleased with this sequence. My Canon 70D can shoot at 7 frames per second in high-speed continuous mode, and this is just the sort of thing that's meant for.

About two seconds. But a very spectacular two seconds. )

The full album is here.
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I was in our local WH Smiths the other day and saw that they had a load of Star Wars kits in, including Revell's kit of the Snowspeeder from The Empire Strikes Back. It was only £6, and I wanted to have a simple kit to practice some painting and weathering techniques on. Well, I had a free weekend for the first time in ages, and during a recent sort-out I'd gathered together all the left-over decals from other kits I'd done. An idea started to form itself...

Snowspeeder GR.1 of 9 Squadron, RAF

Revell Snowspeeder kit, painted in RAF colours

As above

As above, underside view

It's a very easy kit to put together, and ends up about 10cm long. It says on the box it's 1:52 scale; that's hardly a common scale for model kits, and I suspect someone's just divided the size of the full-size filming prop by the size of the model. That being said, from the size of the two crew this is more like 1:72, and I suspect that the filming prop probably wasn't 'full size' or in proportion.

Pedantic nit-pickers will note that the serial is from the early 1960s (it's from a Gnat kit) and the RAF markings are of a style not used on front-line aircraft since the early 1980s. I suggest that given the subject matter we can all suspend our disbelief a little...

Finally, here she is zipping her way through the Welsh valleys on a low-level sortie:

Kit photoshopped against a blurred hillside
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Pictures from the Ragley Hall Classic Car Show yesterday (click on photo to go to full album):

Ragley Hall Classic Car Show 2016
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Picture 2 is definitely "and why are you pointing that thing at me?"
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A little while back I made and painted the Minion Dalek I'd picked up at a model show. He looked like he could do with something to stand on so I thought I'd try out another model-weathering technique.

Rust, via hairspray! )

RustyBase - 9.jpg
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Pictures from Kenilworth Castle today, where there was a classic car meet and heavy horse farm work demonstration.

Kenilworth Castle May 2016
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Bridge of Spies isn't a legal drama in the usual sense; there are a few courtroom scenes in the first part of the film, but the trial of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played in a quiet but captivating performance by Mark Rylance) is hardly shown. Rather, this is very much a film about Abel's lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), and his experiences both of representing - reluctantly at first - a very unpopular client, and then negotiating a swap of Abel for downed U-2 pilot Gary Powers.

I thought I'd like the film as someone interested in Cold War politics, but ended up enjoying it more as a lawyer. In particular, Bridge of Spies highlights two key aspects of being a lawyer: the fundamental ethical issues of duty to your client, and the importance of carefully planning, and resolutely adhering to, a negotiating strategy when seeking a compromise. We see the former as Donovan is subject to pressure from the CIA to divulge privileged discussions with Abel and to public and professional disdain for representing an enemy of the state, and the latter as Donovan seeks to broker a deal swapping Abel for both Powers and Frederic Pryor, an American student held by East Germany.

If I have a criticism it’s that Bridge of Spies rather compresses the timeline of events without really making this clear. From the film, you might think that Abel’s trial was followed not long after by the downing of Powers’ U-2, and that the idea of a swap of Powers for Abel arose very soon after that. In fact, Abel’s trial was in the latter part of 1957, Powers was shot down in May 1960, and the exchange on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin took place in February 1962. That said, the film is apparently fairly accurate, although one scene that seemed unlikely to me (Donovan, against all legal protocol, lobbying a judge in private and without the other side being represented) turns out in fact to have been created for the film (Donovan did make the argument about the value of keeping Abel alive rather than executing him, but in open court, as part of his submissions on sentence.) All in all, highly recommended.
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I recently bought a copy of Great LEGO Sets - A Visual History, a very nicely produced coffee-table book of the history of lego from the early days until 2014 or so. It's chock-full of pictures of a selection of what Lego fans and designers consider to be the pick of the sets over the years, including the Space Lego LL928 Galaxy Explorer - as I posted about recently, I found my one of these not long ago and rebuilt it.

If you buy the slipcase version of the book, not only do you get a very nice picture of the Galaxy Explorer kit on the case, but there's an extra treat - a mini Galaxy Explorer. Yes, Lego have done a kit of one of their kits.

It's a very nice looking little model, too.

Lego Spaceships, plural )

As an aside, I noticed one area where the new mini kit is not only different from the original, but arguably slightly better-designed than it. Anyone spot it?
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The news about Gareth Thomas' death set me thinking about whether or not there ever will be a reboot of Blake's Seven. I'm not sure who would be cast now as Blake, but for Avon you want someone with a vague resemblance to Paul Darrow and, ideally, a track record of playing a well-spoken sociopathic genius.

There's no question really.

DarrowMikkelsen.jpg
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A bit more than a year ago I went on an introductory course on airbrush painting for model-makers. I ended up buying an airbrush and I've been using it for various of my modelling projects since. However, I wanted to try some more advanced techniques and the same company runs a two-day course on camouflage and weathering techniques. The first part was mainly about practising painting camouflage patterns (fiddly, but I learned some ideas to practice with) and the second was about how to make a kit look less like a small clean model and more like a real plane or tank or whatever, complete with dust, dirt, mud, rust, stains and so on.

We had to bring a kit to work on so I went to the local model shop and picked up a BTR-70 Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier in 1/35 scale. This wasn't too small, given that I'm very much learning in this area, and was rather simpler than many tank kits. I built it up in advance, and took the assembled but unpainted kit along with me.

painting up and dirtying down )

In many ways I'm surprised at how well this turned out, although we had a very good tutor and with only four students we got a lot of guidance and supervision. It's certainly encouraged me to try new ideas although I'm going to have to resist the temptation (rather too common if you read model-making magazines) to build every kit looking as if it's of something that's been jumped up and down on with hobnail boots and then left in a wet field for six months....
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As well as the Space Lego that I found in my Mum's loft, I also recovered three Lego Technical sets that I'd coveted in my youth and been delighted to receive for various Christmases between the ages of 9 to 12. After a fair bit of sorting it turned out I had almost all the parts for them (I had to substitute the odd pair of smaller bricks for one bigger one) and was able to build up a little collection from my youth.

IMG_0258

Lego Kit 852 - Helicopter

This was one of the original round of Technical Sets back in 1977. It's pretty simple, with the main moving parts being the main rotor and tail rotor that are geared together. The 'clever' part of the design is that it does incorporate a collective control, with back-and-forth movement of the joysticks (they don’t move sideways) alters the pitch angle of the rotors.

I actually built this kit last of the three, because its parts had become rather mixed up with those in the other kits and the main big box of miscellaneous Lego parts. It was the quickest build, although quite fiddly in places - I seem to remember my ten-year-old self having a bit of difficulty with it at first.

Lego Kit 853 - Car Chassis
Another of the first round of Technical kits, this was very much the premier model of the original kits. It builds into a very large model (certainly by the standards of the day, and it's pretty big for a Lego kit even now) and took me several hours to put together.

This kit has several nice features. The most obvious is a working straight-4 engine with moving pistons, but it also has rack-and-pinion steering, a two-speed gearbox and front seats that move back and forth (all seats tilt on hinges). Even nearly 40 years after being introduced this is an impressive kit once built and as well as looking good it nicely demonstrates some of the principles of how a car works. You can read a more detailed description of the kit with animations of its moving parts here.

Lego Kit 8860 - Car Chassis Mk 2

This kit was the flagship of the second main tranche of technical sets. It was the last major Lego kit I got as a present - I would have been 12 or 13 - but I certainly had a lot of fun building it at 47!

8860 has a flat-4 rear-mounted engine and a 3-speed gearbox. However, having built the gearbox you're then instructed to add a blanking plate that blocks out selection of the lowest gear. This is because when you push the car along the floor the wheels are driving the engine rather than vice-versa, so in bottom gear the gear ratio is too high to turn the engine easily. If you add a motor then the gears work the proper way, and the instructions then tell you to block out the highest gear as the standard Lego motor of the era didn't have enough torque to drive the car at that ratio.

Other features that improve on 853 are a rear differential, working rear shock absorbers, seats that adjust in position and tilt by gears and - a rather subtle one this - Ackerman steering on the front wheels. This means that the wheel on the inside of a turn turns more tightly than the wheel on the outside, so making for a smoother turn. This, coupled with the rear differential, means that 8860 corners far more smoothly and realistically than 853 did. There are more details about 8860's design here.

My childhood Lego career pretty much ended with these kits, although I recall using them for building other projects (in particular, a model of an equatorial telescope mount). Having put them together again now I'm full of admiration for the Lego designers who managed to incorporate so many real-world engineering principles into their designs. Lego went on to produce further car kits, culminating in the 8880 in 1994, with four-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering, and synchronised transmission. (I've looked at what one of those costs on eBay, and gulped a bit, so I think I'll stick with my current Lego for now.)

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Simon Bradshaw

August 2016

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