Category Archives: Opinions

Better to keep silent…

…and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and confirm it.

Or so the saying goes.

Yes, there is a lot of drivel posted on line (including by me), but two really pointless posts have iced the cake for me recently. I will paraphrase and not provide links.

1. In response to a fairly asinine piece of on-line purchasing pretending to be modelling, someone posted a photo of a small model diesel loco he had just bought, which was of an outline foreign to him, with a request for suggestions of what he might convert it to, as he had no idea and most of its features reflected railway practice developed after his preferred modelling era. To date he has received fewer than 2 responses, and it said: “I know nothing about this. Looking forward to seeing how this develops.”

2. In response to a short video showing recent developments on a layout, which included a train running, there was a response which said: “That reminds me of a layout that was in a magazine that ceased printing* 30+ years ago, and I can’t remember the name of the layout.”

We have in front of us a wonderful way to share information, happiness, warmth, sorrow, anguish and humour. But how on earth do posts such as that help with understanding the human condition?

* Yes. The magazine folded. **

** I did say some of the drivel was mine.

Wanting to be better

In 1980, the scientist and author Isaac Asimov memorably commented on ignorance:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Well, I am fairly sure that this isn’t restricted to the USA: my language skills are not sufficient for me to be able to comment on other cultures, but it seems fairly widespread in the anglophone world, and very much so in our hobby. This does not just apply to knowledge of the prototype – although that in itself is a big problem (witness the number of times you will see layouts praised  on forums [fora?]for being “operationally challenging”, when the prototype wants exactly the opposite) – but also to skills. I am all for encouraging people to post their efforts as they start to learn the craft, and there to be positive encouragement, but surely that also includes advice on how to redress such basics as learning to cut in a straight line, and how to make sure basic assemblies are square, rather than offering uncritical praise? We aren’t at pre-school: most of us are adults, and if not adults yet, then anyone reading this blog is possessed of enough self-awareness to realise that the drive to be better is a sign of a healthy human being.

Let me re-phrase the quote:

There is a cult of mediocrity in the hobby, and there has always been. The strain of anti-finescale has been a constant thread winding its way through our media and clubs, nurtured by the false notion that “fun” means that my “near enough is good enough” is just as good as your desire for accuracy.

 

A different perspective

In responding to a comment on Mike Cougill’s latest thought-inspiring post, I made reference to one of my own. (I also found some typos!) Re-reading what I wrote, an extra “contrary wise” thought came to me, and it’s worth highlighting here (in bold) as the downside to accepting ready-made objects straight from the box, warts and all:

As René pointed out, “Marty is right: don’t sweat the details, unless that’s your thing, in which case, don’t expect anyone else to notice.”

I would add that if you don’t sweat the details, hope nobody else will notice!

Nothing new under the sun…

A lot of people seem to lay claim to the “less is more” concept: I see it frequently posted on the web along the lines of, “John Smith explains his ‘less is more’ concept” or even “I explain my ‘less is more’ concept”.

Anyway, I came across this wonderful quote from Seneca the Younger (5BCE-65CE):

It is quality rather than quantity that matters.

Sense of Place

I have written before about “love of subject”, and indeed mention it in the “about” sidebar entitled “Finescale With Feeling”. I think it provides a “grounding” for the modeller, and this shows in the results. That said, I wish I had done as good a job as Ken Karlewicz has in his YouTube video:

Our hobby needs more like this.

Thanks due to Trevor Marshall for introducing this to me.

Addendum: this layout is featured in the 2019 issue of Model Railroad Planning.

…and Standards

Engineers talk about tolerances, the degree to which a component can vary from a specification – and also whether that is plus, minus or ±. These two things, the specification and the tolerance, are the very definition of standards. The finer (smaller) the tolerances, the finer the standard and the greater the precision. Simple. But the standard is the standard, and the tolerance is the tolerance, regardless of the degree of precision.

And here, I think, lies the problem. When people hear or see the word “standards” they automatically add the qualification “high”, or even “very high” even if it isn’t there. But let’s be clear, even if you buy things off the shelf, they have been made to a standard: to ensure maximum sales potentials, track will have defined standards for gauge and flangeways, and wheels will have defined back to back and flange profiles. These can be defined in various ways, such as “track gauge equals check gauge plus flangeway” and “back to back equals check gauge minus glance width”, but the point is, by buying off the shelf, a modeller has already implicitly accepted these standards, albeit unknowingly in many cases.

Finescale is about accepting the degree to which perfection is unattainable. Whilst “exact scale” may be used to set an accurate track gauge, etc, the physical world of engineering tolerances means that is not fully achievable. This is liberating, as it points to the need to allow for a degree of imperfection. Finescale is therefore all about setting standards: not just for track and wheels, but about everything: level of detail, contemporaneously correct details, etc. It’s an attitude of mind. This acknowledgement and definition of standards is the definition of how we wish to achieve our aims. And the measure of success is gauged against these standards. And this is where the pitfalls lie and misunderstandings arise.

  • This is an entirely personal and individual choice: what works for me may not work for you.
  • Similarly, not consciously adopting or defining standards is a perfectly feasible alternative: if buying off the shelf works for you, then by all means do so, but please don’t think you have avoided having standards by accepting someone else’s.
  • The fact that I have defined my personal standards does not mean I think I am in any way “better” than anyone else. It’s just my way of doing my hobby. If you resent my active choice of standards, that’s says nothing about me but a lot about you.
  • Working to a tighter degree of tolerance takes more time. I might achieve “less” in terms of quantity, but that’s not what I want.
  • This in no way contradicts the “good enough” concept: it is entirely congruent with it.. I am not building an operationally-focused “basement empire”, so replacing cast details is fine by me: that’s how I enjoy my modelling. If I had the space and desire for a large operations oriented layout, I would be using RTR equipment, modified, repainted and weathered to be sure, but everything would be subordinate to the aim of creating that dream, which has to be balanced against the time I have available.
  • As a corollary to all the above, what works for you in your circumstances probably won’t work for me in mine, so please don’t force your secret of success on me, or tell me that it is the only way to happiness.

Fundamentally I get more from satisfaction than from fun. This takes more time, but is much more enjoyable.

This post, and the last two, was inspired by Mike Cougill’s recent post on inspiration, whose wonderful blog continues to a haven for the sane, rational and thoughtful amongst the hobby.