Making Tools and Sweating Buckets

Being a hobbyist, more specifically a train hobbyist, has made me use more raw skills than any other hobby.  It involves all the skills of building plastic models–the prepping, the painting, the assembling, the disassembling, the repainting,  It involves a fair bit of math– measuring angles, radii etc as well as re-measuring those same angles and radii.  It involves a bit of electronics–soldering, wiring, re-soldering, rewiring.  And it involves a bit of carpentry–constructing platforms to build the train on, backdrop holders, rebuilding those same things, quite possibly several times.
An example of the thick sprue channel
I am no carpentry whiz–as I mentioned before, that is my brother’s department.  Nonetheless, I try not to bother him with things I should be able to handle.  I build my last train table myself and managed to do a fine job (though, I wish I hadn’t taken the advice to build the thing on a hollow door–plywood would have been better and it would have been much easier to wire.)  Some friends even commented that I did a decent job (that is why you have friends by the way)  I managed all of this without a serious collection of power tools.  Hand saw, mitre box, and workbench can take you far.
Besides giving myself a virtual pat on the back and feeling smug about my self reliance, it does bring me to today’s blog idea–making tools, or at least making do.
The cleaned up model I am working on–sanding still required
Today I started work on a DPM (Design Preservation Models) Hayes Hardware kit.  Having spent a lot of years building car models from the US, Japan, parts of Asia and Europe, I can say that car modellers have it way easier,  You clean up a bit of flash, fill some gaps and you’re ready. With these kits I had to cut off a lot of extra material, (I have never seen such big sprue channels) and you aren’t really provided with a nice tab system for keeping things together,  What really irked me was that I was told I had to “level the draft corners”.  The building doesn’t even come squared.  The edges are bevelled!  Why would they do it that way?  Granted I found no injection marks, but still!  I would like to see what a Japanese company like Tamiya could do on buildings. (I have a Japanese model of a convenience store but it came pre-built, so I can’t really compare.)
The recommended rotating the model around a piece of sandpaper tacked to a piece of wood.  Sounds good, but wouldn’t it be better to have the sandpaper glued to the wood?  Whether it is better or not, I do not know.  However, that is what I did.  I got a piece of wood, cut it to size with my trusty handsaw, and glued two pieces of sandpaper to it.  Now, I have what they asked for, built to my specifications.
The sanding tool I made
The negatives; it took me some time (finding the piece of wood, getting it down from its high storage area involved moving and setting up my not so light ladder, marking the cuts, cutting it, cleaning up, gluing and waiting for the glue to dry) and when the sandpaper is used up, I will have to make another one.
The positives; I feel very manly.  (in which case I feel entitled to a beer)  I feel self reliant.
All in all, I am confident that I can go to the next stage in the building process.
If anyone would like to comment on the outdated tools they use, or the tools that they have made, that would be wonderful.

Living Large

Today was a day of hobbies.  I went to the Japanese store to practice a little Nihongo and eat some Tonkatsu.  I followed that up with a financially draining visit to the train store, a complicated search for and tour of a  plastic model shop, and a quick visit to the store that sells the Nanoblocks.
Some would call it self indulgence, others would call it what I call it, a classic start to my vacation.  Living life to the fullest includes doing your hobbies.

Commuting Distractions–Logic Puzzles

Having too much time on my hands in the bus is both a good and bad thing.  My bus is frequent enough that I don’t spend a lot of time waiting for it, but I certainly spend a lot of time on it.  I read, do the crossword, maybe a sudoku, a codeword when I have them, play video games and lately, I have been doing logic puzzles.

I thought I was the only one who did them because I had never seen anyone do them.  Sudoku seems to be the favourite, followed by people reading, and then followed by whatever iPhone game is popular at the moment.  I have never seen anyone doing a logic puzzle.  And no one has ever asked me what I was doing, or stared at me to figure out what I was doing……. until Friday.

On Friday I met someone who was interested and who wanted to know where I got the book.  This is no big deal, but it means that I am, in my mind, no longer the only one doing these things.  I am part of some group.  Since the book was published and sold in a big bookstore chain, I should probably have realized this before now….but this seems more personal, more real.

Logic puzzles are not the best thing for the bus.  There is less to write than a crossword puzzle (I use circles and “ x”s), but more to pay attention to.  I had been managing it pretty well, but I realized that for the difficult puzzles, it is difficult to concentrate.  Add to this fact that I am often sleepy during the morning commute and on the verge of dozing off on the evening commute and you can see the problem.

I will persevere though.  Logic puzzles are fun, and challenging.

I became a fan of logic problems when I was in high school.  We spent a week in mathematics class doing them.  I did acceptably well on the test, but now I would be able to ace it. (okay, that’s ego talking–let’s just say I hope I would do better now.)

Over the years I have bought some puzzle magazines because they contained a few logic puzzles.  The only problem was that I didn’t do the rest of the magazine and it sat around for years until I finally threw it out–no I am not a hoarder, but I am not a constant purger either.  My current book is 160 pages of logic puzzles.  I got it in the discount section of the bookstore (I guess they aren’t popular) and have done about 25 of them.

Two Dreams Unrealized

Get ready to be shocked.  There are two things that I am passively working on.  I say passively because I really want to be able to do them, but am not sure I ever will.  Probably if I put in a large amount of effort or work I could probably gain a respectable amount of skill, but somehow I am not sure that is going to happen.

I want to learn how to juggle and I want to learn how to do yoyo tricks.

I know, not really a spectacular ambition.  Other people are getting their MBA’s  and PhD’s and I want to be a party entertainer.  When I put it like that, it does sound pathetic. really pathetic.  I might as well learn how to make balloon animals. (see tomorrow’s blog–just kidding)

I don’t think it is really about entertaining.  I really can’t imagine performing in front of people.  Don’t get me wrong, once I get over the stage fright, I can perform in front of people.  It is a weird thing, but I can stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and make them laugh easier than I can ask questions to the clerk in a hobby shop.

Rather than be an entertainer, I just want the skill to be able to do those things.  The juggling came from a Japanese TV show called TV Champion.  It is a wonderful show that can make an interesting contest out of anything (juggling, making ramen, building Lego, making models, redecorating, and painting to name a few)  They had a great juggling contest and I was hooked.  Of course, my high school girlfriend was also a professional clown and could juggle–and ride a unicycle–so maybe that was part of it.

The yoyo came from watching my brother do amazing things with the yoyo. and then watching very young people on YouTube do impossible things.

I bought the yoyo and can do some very basic tricks with it (okay, one trick.  Thanks to the ball bearings, I can make it sleep for an incredibly long time)  I got the juggling balls for Christmas and have never managed more than a few revolutions before they come crashing to the ground and I have to gather them up again.  The instruction booklet recommended practicing over a table to make it easier to round up the balls.  It would be good advice if they didn’t roll off the table.

Not having mastered either of these skills I have considered giving these things away in my annual donate to family ritual, but have never managed to do it.  Even now, hunting for the yoyo to take the picture, I was worried that I had given it away.  Like most things, I think someday I will do it.  I just wish I knew when that someday would come.

My Hobby is Sleeping?

As an ESL teacher I get an interesting world view.  I have heard many interesting things, wild things and unbelievable things.  One that affects the topic of this blog is what my students consider hobbies.  Since my definition is broad I shouldn’t judge anyone’s definition, at least not harshly.

Some students have told me that listening to music is their hobby.  based on the fact that they listen to MP3 files, I tend to disagree.  If listening to music is your hobby I think you would have some of the best equipment possible and the best recordings available.  Granted, I am no expert, but since I have heard the hollow sounds leak out of the ears of several of my fellow commuters, I can’t believe that those are the best recordings.  We can have computers with terabytes of memory, so we should be able to have some incredible digital recordings.  Some of my students do indeed have top of the line headphones, but does that make it a hobby?  Listening to music is certainly relaxing and enjoyable, but is it a hobby?  I would have to say no, but might be persuaded to raise my acceptance level to undecided on a particularly good day.

The other “hobby” (I have to use quotation marks because I can in no way agree that this is a hobby) that my students regularly admit to is,,,,,,, wait for this one,,,,, sleeping.  I really don’t know what to say about this one.  If I use my previous criteria, that would have to be one dynamite bed for this to be declared a hobby.  The most recent student to argue this one was quite passionate, and quite articulate.  She loved sleeping, spending as much as 14 hours one day (hopefully after finishing her homework).  She said it felt good.

If I sleep more than normal my body gets sore–or is that just because I am old?

Lastly, several students said that shopping was their hobby.  I can’t say as I have any passion for this, but I could see how they might see it as a hobby.  They don’t buy something every time they go, they go into the same shops they’ve already been to, and they do a lot of research, spend a lot of time and money, and put a lot of energy into it.   My inner self says to firmly put my foot down and say no, this is not a hobby.  The truth is, I can’t.  I can’t understand shopping as a hobby, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

As for my readers, I would love your opinions on this.


I have already admitted (perhaps more than once) that I have been bitten by the Lego bug.  That is undeniably true.  What I failed to mention, or perhaps concealed from you, is that I found a way to stave off the call of Lego.  Not surprisingly, that way comes from Japan(my other home, and source of many of my hobbies.)

They are called Nanoblocks.  Basically it is Lego, only smaller.  When you think about it, it is no surprise that these blocks come from Japan.  They made everything else smaller, so why not make something that is similar to Lego, only smaller.

I saw these things first either on or on BusanKevin’s YouTube page.  Yes, surprise surprise I do check out Amazon Japanoften enough to spot what is new and happening in Japan.  Some family members call it an obsession, even a sickness.  Others think I was Japanese in a past life.  Either one might be true, but that doesn’t really matter.  I like hobbies, and truth be told, Japan is a country which really caters to the hobbyist.

yes, they are that small

Back to Nanoblocks.  The upside is that they are small, and even a large box doesn’t take up so much room when built.  I have built five pieces so far and they don’t take up very much room.  In fact, the marketing for the ones that I have done (famous landmarks) is that you can have the whole world on your desk.  Looking at my photo you can see that is true.

Now, they are indeed small.  Even though I am into N scale trains (the second smallest scale) I found these things to be rather small.  This isn’t such a big problem unless you

a) drop them on the carpet–in which case search and rescue could take some time

b) have slender nimble hands–which I don’t
This is what comes in a typical box
c) have absolutely no patience–I have enough, fortunately

Of all of the ones I have built the castle was my favourite. It was a large, challenging, and came with a fantastic instruction book.  The instruction book set out how many of each type of piece was needed per step.  This was good because the box had more than 2000 pieces.  I enjoyed building it, but it took quite a bit of time.  I think the end result was a good model though.

This was the deluxe kit–and it was spectacular
Nanoblocks are readily available through in the US (you lucky people) and here in Canada, Scholar’s Choice sells a few (a few, my advice is to call before you drive there–I had to get them taken from one store to a closer one before I could go and pick them up)   As far as the price goes they are not horrendously expensive.  Granted, I did get the Castle (which is called HimejiCastle) sent from Japan–this is the deluxe one, a smaller one is available.

Once assembled, there are a few pieces left over.  I decided to organize mine in a Stanleyorganizer–perhaps it is not the best use of space.  I have done five and I could probably put what is left over into a small box.  Why on earth did I choose such a big organizer….I am thinking long term.  Someday I might have way too many of these tiles for even that huge organizer….someday.

okay, so I haven’t reached storage capacity yet.
If you have some Japanese ability, you will be able to find some great examples of what artistic people can do on the Japanese homepage   Typical of Japan, they hold yearly contests, and some of the work is unbelievable.

If you want to know more, check the English home page at

As an addition to my family of hobbies, it seems to fit right in.  It was creative, fun, challenging, and from Japan–see, perfect for me.

Random Encoutners and Random Reminders

I was riding the bus yesterday absentmindedly watching a woman flip through a book. She started out concentrating, but by the end she was just flipping through the book, not really looking at it. Because I was trying not to look, and because I wasn’t wearing my glasses–who’s kidding who? I was trying to look, but because my glasses were safely packed away in my bad I had to squint pretty badly, and I still couldn’t make out what she was looking at.

I had a feeling, a sixth sense (without the dead people) that she was looking at a Japanese book. Maybe it was the layout of the book… I am not really sure. I squinted very hard, but I couldn’t make it out.

When we neared our destination, she closed the book and I saw the cover had only two things written on it. It read N2. Aha (or as they say in Japanese Yappari!) it was a Japanese textbook, specifically for the second level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Normally, or at least usually, I wouldn’t try to bother people but I felt I had to ask her.

I asked “Are you studying for the Exam?”

She replied, (being somewhat surprised) “yes, but the test isn’t’ till December.”

We only had a brief conversation about it, but I was feeling good about he coincidence. What struck me the most, and serves as a catalyst for this blog, is that she said it was her hobby.

It is also my hobby, but I have neglected it for a while. So many other things seem really important right now. I am not sure any of them really are, but that is just the way things are stacked up right now. This brief encounter has reminded me that I need to spend a little time working on my Japanese, if only not to become rusty, and prepare for one of the levels of the exam.