Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday 23 June 2022

Zoom! - OOOOOH! - phut....

 I'm aware of other bloggers publishing rather splendid accounts of their remote wargames, and I'm very impressed, not to say envious.

I started off using Zoom for wargames with great enthusiasm early in the pandemic lockdown, I hosted a number of games, and I was very pleased and excited by the results and the potential. It was only later, when I took the trouble to find out, that I realised that the video quality I was sending out was so poor that it wasn't such a great experience for the generous friends on whom I was inflicting it. I was sent some very iffy-looking screenshots of what was visible at the far end, and then the Bold David mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised to see how attractive my wargame figures were, when he studied the photographs which I took during the refight of Kilsyth in which he had been involved. The wonders of what I could see on-site had nothing to do with his view, far, far away.

I confess my crest was more than a little fallen.

There was a time when it seemed possible that Zoom offered all that was likely to be available for the foreseeable future in the twilit world of Covid. I had a paid account, since I was involved with the musical activities of the Folk Club of a neighbouring town, and I'd learned a lot there about what could be achieved on a shoestring budget. For the wargaming, I had grandiose plans to spend money on a top-quality streaming video camera, to improve the pictures. My youngest son made the useful observation that I could spend what I wanted, but Zoom would take one look at the available bandwidth out here in The Sticks, and would automatically dumb-down the picture resolution to what it thought our broadband could sustain reliably.

Roman mosaic (low-resolution)

The set up I used here consisted of my (5-year old) Android tablet as the main camera/host, with my alter ego Max attending the sessions using my old iPhone to provide a second camera from the far end of the table. Both of these devices have excellent built-in cameras, and the pictures I can see on-screen at my end of the sessions look very good, but the cruncher has been the dreaded rural broadband. Our service arrives by radio broadcast (no, you read that correctly), by line-of-sight transmission from a hill about 8 miles away. The maximum service available was a humble 12Mb/sec, which may sound laughable but was easily the best of all the options available. No wonder, then, that my Zoom sessions produced pictures with the resolution of a Roman mosaic floor.

Traprain Hill - there's a transmitter up there somewhere

[In passing, I must note that when we were originally being sold the idea of the radio transmission service, one of my neighbours was not happy at all, since she believed that a line-of-sight transmission would not work at night - this has been one of the brighter moments in our experience.]

Well, time has passed, and my internet service provider has upgraded the kit, so we now get a handsome 32Mb/sec, which would still be regarded as a joke in Kensington but represents a whole new age of promise here. Buoyed up by the new possibilities, I roped in some brave volunteers to check out what effect this had on Zoom pictures, and I regret to say that it didn't seem to make any notable difference. The quality at the far end of the connection was still, to coin a technical term, duff.

The Far End view - this screenshot kindly provided by The Other David, captured in far-off Londinium. This is post-upgrade - the camera in use at this instant is the old iPhone at the West End of the table. Not terrible, but certainly not great.

So I wrote to the technical support people at Zoom. If you have never attempted this, by the way, I recommend you do not bother. They are pretty good at debiting money from your bank account very promptly, but their customer service is non-existent. It would be tempting to suggest it is about as bad as you can get, but my world survey is not yet complete; however, I think it must be up there.

So I am left to wonder what is possible. How do those guys out there successfully run remote wargames, with no-one getting frustrated or going blind?

* Despite our local pride in the upgrade, 32Mb/s may still be show-stoppingly slow. I tried connecting the devices directly (by cable) to my hub, rather than use the wi-fi, but it made no difference.

* I could try some more modern mobile devices, but that would cost money, and doesn't seem to offer any guaranteed improvement.

* There must be something in my Zoom settings, you would think, that would sort this out? Well there isn't. I can choose to have my wrinkles blurred a bit, or the background replaced by a photo of Miami, but the picture resolution appears to be a given.

* It does occur to me that the overall traffic on a Zoom session can be cut back a bit by switching off the video pictures from the remote generals, but at this point I am just tinkering with details.

That's about it, really. I am disappointed, since I got the Zoom games quite nicely organised, video quality apart. If I am not going to be able to improve this I shall stop the paid account and go back to the freebie one, which restricts the number of participants and the length of multiple sessions.

I would be really very pleased to get any useful advice here. I thought of moving to Kensington, but decided against it. 

***** Late Edit *****

I came across this notice on the Zoom site, which may be bad news; it seems that Zoom have restricted display on sessions involving more than 2 participants to "standard quality" rather than HD. It is hoped this is a temporary measure, and apparently it is because of Covid, and apparently it may only be Zoom that got us through Covid anyway. Humility does not seem to come naturally to Zoom's marketing people, but I guess we have to be grateful.


Sunday 19 June 2022

Hooptedoodle #426 - Just a Minute...

 I'm still trying to get my sleep patterns into some more sensible state, after Covid. I woke early this morning, cross about having slept far too much yesterday, got myself washed and dressed and breakfasted and made a start at 5am on the tax returns - mine and my mother's. There isn't really a great rush to get them done, but I've been putting the task off for a few weeks, and its been starting to irritate me.

Sure enough, I completed my mother's return (on paper, since, not having a driving licence or a passport, my poor old mum no longer exists in the digital world) and my own (online, since I am privileged enough to conform to the required civic profile), and I even drove into the village to post the paper one. I can assure you that the place was very quiet at 9am on a Sunday.

Right - very pleased to have got that done - a bit of a fight-back after the hassle and the slobbing around.

Garden furniture, back on the patio; we'll have to tidy up a little, in case someone falls down a ravine, or gets strangled by a jungle vine

Later today, after investing the standard amount of effort into preparing our recyclable waste for collection tomorrow, I had another look at our new garden parasol. The previous one lasted for 16 years or so, but eventually this year we were forced to accept that Spring-cleaning it with the pressure washer was not a great idea. So we have a new one, which was cheaper than I expected, but also of observably inferior quality.

The parasol will be great - we've even moved the garden furniture back on to the patio, after it spent quite a few years in a sort of exile next to the front steps. One concern I had was that it is now more exposed to the wind, and it billows about in even a relatively gentle breeze. The old parasol had a built-in cord which was used to bind it closed, to keep the sail-area down and keep the beasties out. Today's great idea, then, was that I improvised the same sort of arrangement, using a spare roll of Velcro I've had in a drawer for years. Excellent - problem solved, and it cost me nothing. Result.

The improvised Velcro fastening; yes it is ugly, and it looks cheap and nasty, but I think you may be missing the point here...

I feel as though I'm on a sort of roll - yesterday's triumph was that I repaired a lampshade, which doesn't sound too impressive, but there are fitted shades on the bedside lamps in the attic bedroom, and one of the shades had a broken frame. It was originally spot-welded, I believe (Cheapo Productions - unbeatable value). I had spent some time trying to find a similar pair of shades, but couldn't find any the same size, and none with the conveniently old-fashioned fittings. In a Mother of Invention moment, I realised that I could probably repair the frame with a blob of Gorilla glue. Worth a shot. Worked perfectly. The lampshade problem is solved, and, like the Velcro fastener for the parasol, it cost me absolutely nothing.

And there was light, and you could see for miles

I was really quite invigorated by my successful couple of days, and it was only later this afternoon, when I was looking for other long-standing problems to cross off the to-do list, that I finally realised that I have turned into my dad...

Friday 17 June 2022

WSS: Les Higgins - a Little More Figure Paleontology

 I warn you now, this is an extremely nerdy post indeed, so if you like this sort of stuff you should maybe worry a little, but welcome to the gang hut anyway.

My WSS armies mostly consist of Les Higgins 20mm castings, or PMD (Phoenix Model Developments), which is how the company was relaunched after Les died in the early 1970s. As I work through the jobs involved in building up my own forces, I have become familiar with slight variants on the figures as time passed. I'm not referring to conversions added to the range by Old John in recent years, I'm referring to evolution in the original production days.

The relevant page from the Les Higgins Miniatures catalogue of 1971

This post (such as it is) was prompted by the realisation that the last few of my original-pattern MP16 castings are about to be painted, and all the MP16s I will have thereafter will be examples of the later PMD figure, which was sculpted entirely by Tim Richards, who succeeded Les as the company's chief designer. There was a sort of landmark period when the range was remastered to show the new PMD logo, and Richards took the opportunity to make some changes - the officer with sword [from pack MP17] was smartened up and given more ornate dress, and a couple of other changes were made; the throwing grenadier [MP3] and the charging grenadier [MP7] were always weak castings, since they stood on one foot, so these were tweaked so that the figures were standing more firmly. For some reason which I've never fathomed, the PMD version of the walking horse has it's head turned to the left, whereas the original was peeking to the right - otherwise the castings appear identical, logos apart. And there was a new, simpler drummer [from MP18], which was all Richards' work

The listing, borrowed without permission from the vintage20MIL website

Anyway, to MP16. The original figure is described, at least in the list in Vintage 20 MIL, as "at the ready". After the changeover to PMD, this figure seems to have disappeared and been replaced by a very different chap, who seems to be advancing in a very businesslike manner. I like both castings, personally - it has been suggested to me that the later version looks very similar to a Strelets French fusilier pose - not a bad copy, considering it predated it by 45 years or so.

To commemorate the passing of my last old-style MP16s, I set up a couple of photos, with a choice of lighting. The two figures on the left are Les Higgins' handiwork, and they show traces of white undercoat. The two on the right are the replacement PMD figure by Tim Richards. 


I love them all. 

Sunday 12 June 2022

WSS: Déjà Vu (well, sort of)

Case Study No. 1

Some years ago, when I was building up my 20mm ECW armies, I became very interested in the Covenanters of 1643-44. I bought in some useful books, and kind of befriended all those local chaps who had trooped down to Duns Camp, besieged Newcastle and fought at Marston Moor. When I say local, I mean local to where I live; I was especially interested in the adventures of the East Lothian Regiment, for example, who were raised by Sir Ralph Hepburn, whose family seat, Waughton Castle, is about 5 miles from where I'm sitting. Well, it was there before someone nicked all the stone to build dykes and farm steadings.   

I read the life of Alexander Leslie and the history of his army, and there is some wonderful detail of who was who in the Covenanter force. I became very interested in the rather confusing period which is now known as the Bishops' Wars, about 1638-40. I considered whether it would make a satisfactory alternative campaign, and how easily I could fudge armies for it from what I already had planned. I still think about it now, but I quickly decided that the idea was intriguing, but there were some major snags, not the least being that King Charles's on-the-cheap Army of Vengeance was a wash-out. It was a very silly and one-sided conflict. Charles obviously felt that the Divine Right of Kings extended to prohibiting anyone from opposing his army on the battlefield. The point at which I left it is that

(1) it might make an interesting campaign at some point, but not a historical one; it would benefit from the armies being artificially balanced rather a lot.

(2) come to think about it, maybe it would make a nice map game - possibly a boardgame...

Case Study No. 2

Time passes; since the end of 2019 I have been working on refurbishing and extending armies for the War of the Spanish Succession. Once again, I find that I have committed myself to building armies in a long-dead scale, using figures which have been out of production for 45 years or so. It's a rare talent.

In my hunt for alternative figures which would fit, I looked at all sorts, and found that nearly all the plastics and 1/72 metal miniatures were too big. Irregular Miniatures offered some useful variations, but there wasn't much else. Around this time, it occurred to me that Newline, if they made suitable figures, might be just about right for my target 1/76 scale. Of course, they don't. They have some SYW British infantry who obviously have the later uniform. However, they sent me a sample pack of their Jacobites. Hey. Pretty good.

Now I was at the beginning of putting together serious armies for the Blenheim period, and had no wish to get distracted into looking at the 1745 Rebellion. However, I thought that perhaps, as an alternative, The 1715 might be an interesting add-on for my WSS chaps. A period I know very little about, of course, so I made a mental note and shelved the idea for later.

To my amazement, I now estimate I should complete my original Phase One plan for the WSS by Winter this year, ignoring any element of Creeping Elegance which might extend the work. Without wishing to tempt Providence, I spent a little of my current isolation period thinking more about this. I bought a very cheap, pre-owned copy of Stuart Reid's Sheriffmuir on eBay, and it arrived last week. Great book!

I find myself back in the Bishops' Wars situation. What could I do, how rewarding would it be, and how much of a distraction? There are copious lists of regiments, not all of which could have appeared at the same time, but some familiar names from my memory of the old Royalist horse in the days of the Marquis of Newcastle - Widdrington, among others. Maybe some of my ECW cavalry could ride again? A few of the British WSS regiments have the right facings and so on, though of course my flags are hopeless for the years after 1707. And then there are Highland troops - I now know that Newline might work nicely, and I also have some (very scruffily painted) Irregular Highlanders I bought in to help the Marquis of Montrose. Hmmm.

At the moment I am enjoying reading about this, and making up candidate lists of what I could use from what I already have (if I kept my eyes half-shut), and what else I could sensibly add. I'm convinced that I won't do anything for the moment, but it's an interesting possibility. As with my potential cod Bishops' Wars, I think the approach might be a heavily-fictionalised map campaign.

Anyway, whatever happens, I am enjoying reading about yet another unfamiliar bit of history. Learning stuff is fun, provided the old Covid allows one to stay awake long enough to do some reading!

Monday 6 June 2022

Lee's Painting Service - a word from our sponsors...

 Only about 30 months behind the trend, I have finally contracted Covid. I'm pleased to say it's a mild variant, and I expect to be OK in a week or two - mostly it's a nuisance, not to say a bit embarrassing - I have been very lucky. I feel rather like the kid who got the "regular attendance" prize at school, long after they had finished handing out the sporting and scholastic awards. 

I am isolated in the attic, so have no access to my main desktop computer or my photo-editing software. However, I thought I would have a bash on my old laptop to dedicate a quick post to my good mate Lee Gramson.

Lee has done a load of excellent painting for me over the years, and my armies would be shabbier and smaller without his contribution, so I am a loyal customer and a big fan. He tells me that he recently attempted to promote his painting service on a well-known military modelling and wargaming forum, but had his post removed for non-compliance with the house rules. Seems a bit harsh, but this is a forum from which I and a couple of my hobby acquaintances were chucked out a few years ago for daring to dispute the owner's Jurassic views on plagiarism law. Just shows how little I know.

Anyway, I thought I'd like to recommend Lee's work to anyone who is interested. He's a great brushman, he's obliging and helpful and a genuinely lovely bloke, and his pricing is fair and competitive.

You'll find the details on his blog here. Please check him out.

This is the latest of the 20mm WSS batches Lee has done for me - note that the gloss varnish and the Old School basing are eccentricities of my own house style - Lee is more than happy to do more normal stuff than this!