Thursday 30 September 2010

Website Funding - The Creeping Site Killer.....?

One of the biggest personal responsibilities that goes with owning and operating any website is paying for the hosting fees as and when they occur; monthly, quarterly or yearly.

So anyone asking me, and probably any of the many 'WebMasters' that have owned and run a site for over 10 years continuously, for the first piece of advice before they set up their own site will no doubt be told that - certainly by me, anyway. There, that was simple, wasn't it? You buy, you pay.

Well, actually, No, it isn't quite that simple.

Every website on the World-Wide-Web can be set up and run from any personal pc from their back-bedroom, den or laptop and to do this their are a number of free download, cheap or expensive website building programmes available; you take your pick according to the type of site you wish to build and operate. Either way, it's all there for you to use and there are very few costs or other problems associated with those. Indeed, the programme that I purchased for SEAWINGS eleven years ago I still use today. Good value, I'd say. However, that isn't the big issue. It's what you then have to do with your burgeoning site that has become the biggest single problem facing Webmasters today; the hosting of it on the web. Every website built has to be up-loaded onto the net, that place we all know as the World-Wide-Web. To up-load is relatively easy and cheap; it just involves another programme to use or indeed some website building packages have an upload system built in. But where do you up-load it to?

And thereby hangs the snag...........Hosting.

There are companies that own and run servers that your website is uploaded on to, where it is held as a copy of the one you see on your local pc or laptop, and thus it is then available to anyone and everyone anywhere on this planet that has access to a pc and the Internet and can log onto it. They are called Wesite Hosts.There is no other way to do this, least not that I've ever heard of. This hosting company provides the method by which your website is held 'up-there' so that everyone can see it. They come in many, many diferent forms, big, small, private, global, commercial - indeed there seems to be as many different varieties as there are websites; all offering different packages and deals and all in competition with one another. Some of them have become 'house-hold names' in this field, some of them are good, some are bad; most actually fulfil the hosting part satisfactorily, it's usually the service that's offered where you can tell the men from the boys. 'Support' is what they call it and it is here that the costs start for to provide that support you need staff sitting available at the other end of a pc or phone ready to answer your urgent call for assistance when something goes wrong. Can you see where this is all heading yet? Costs. Their costs become our hosting bills with a profit margin - usually very healthy - added on.

After hours of reading customer or user reviews covering literally hundreds of individual companies you then choose a hosting package that suits you and you sign up and get on with site building. However, what thought has been given to how popular your site is likely to get, how big it is likely to grow and how often it requires to be up-dated to feed the masses that are eager to read the next article. The answer to that in our non-commercial world is simple; none.

When I started SEAWINGS eleven years ago from a new pc in my den, I had absolutely no idea how big it would get. I didn't give it a second thought. How could I possibly know? All I had to hand was the material that I had at that time to form the basis for the site. I never, ever dreamt that like-minded flying boat enthusiasts from all over the Globe would latch onto the site and become correspondents, sending in mountains of reference information that was looking for a home to go to. You could argue that that was why it was started in the first place, and you'd be correct; it has been the sheer amount that has totally surprised me. That brand new pc was 2Gb in hard-drive size. Today, SEAWINGS's capacity on the web is 8Gb alone! There is another 300Gb sitting on my HD to work with.

So, you build your site, pay your initial hosting fees and off you go. And it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Each quarter or half-year you have to purchase a bit more server or 'hosting' space to hold it all and the bills rise; slowly at first , but as you really 'kick-in' with the building -  and especially when the site is photograph image 'heavy' as SEAWINGS undoubtably is - then the space required rises at a far faster rate. And, so do the costs. All of a sudden, a bill comes in that wakes you up; it's the size of a commercial companies website bill. How can that be? After all, your site is a 'home hobby' site isn't it? Not anymore it isn't.

Take a look at the top 6 model websites today; we all know which ones they are so I won't go into names. (Incidentally, I have picked this genre as I have the information from some of them to hand - I think they are all great sites and resources and I don't have a 'bone' to pick with any of them, so please don't take it that I'm having a 'dig' at them - I'm not) Take a close look and see what they have now, that they never used to. Answer? Adverts. Why? To pay the ever increasing hosting bills. Other types of sites, such as model review websites, carry something else; a Donation request. Why? Because these are the ones that are not 'commercially viable'. If you are a pure model making website you are able to attract potential customers and the kit manufacturers or the book publishers have realised that and will pay a fee to have an advert running. Or, they will sponsor a section of the site; sponsorship is purely a posh term for donations. Either way, money - funds - will come into the site to off-set the hosting fees (mainly, but there are other 'hidden' costs such as Domain Registration fees, as well). The sites that are not as commercially viable have to inevitably and eventually proffer the 'begging bowl' and ask for donations to keep it running. This is exactly the situation I found myself in two years ago when I got to within nine days of shutting the whole thing down. The day was saved by the very people that enjoy the site sending in enough donations to cover the costs. Phew! That was close.............

But, things do not change. Without regular secure funding sites such as SEAWINGS will always have a strugle to survive, I fear. SEAWINGS is about flying boats, great! But there are hardly any flying boat operators that exist today so no flying company is going to pay for an advert to attract passengers; it acts as a repositery for information but no fee is charged to use it; it does not make anything it sells so no decent profits will ever arise from sales in the SEAWINGS Flying Boat Shop; it hosts The Flying Boat Forum which currently has nearly 200 registered 'official' members/users who pay no fee to be so and thus it does not contribute (and, incidentally would be lost for good if SEAWINGS ever went down) and believe it or not, and here is the bit that really rankles with me personally, I get asked every week for a link, or an advert or similar to be placed on the front page by some organisation or other, a commercial organisation such as a model plane manufacturer, museum or charity organisation, an individual with an on-line webshop or a personal book to sell - whatever. Either way the common denominator is that thay are in some sort of business making a profit (we assume) and they want to promote themselves or their wares, on my site. Great chances for me! So, after the prolog, I inform them that due to the excessive hosting fee's and that the site is funded mostly by me, I levy a (very) small fee for what they ask - only to be expected in the commercial world - and then I get every excuse under the Sun as to why they cannot possibly afford to pay such a fee (and we are talking sums of £5.00GBP per month, or $10.00USD or €12.00EUR dependent on what is required) but, No, they cannot possibly do that. "Sorry, my budget for this year is all allocated" said one company just last week - this from a company that lists 100's and 100's of individual products and all of them are priced in the $100's dollars each - and all they were asked for was $10.00 per month. After PayPal fees etc thats commutes down to around a fiver - a lousy £5.00 per month. Not enough to replace a single printer cartridge from a Pound Store.

Charities are another source of annoyance, they want everything yet give nothing back. I have had every Chairman under the Sun on at me to promote their website and charity organisation and yet not ONE of them has ever accepted that they should pay a small fee for the service, especially when I have to usually make up the advert for them and spend my valuable time working on their behalf. Rude?  Boy you had better believe it -  when the conversation eventually swings away from the hour spent on the phone with them telling me how good they are and what a service they provide and how they enjoy priviliged funding through the charity status and how difficult it was to obtain, but how they can benefit now with all sorts of things bought and paid for, BUT as soon as I mention any form of payment, no matter how small it is I get an earfull of how I should be supporting THEM and they cannot possibly provide the fee that I was seeking. The Commitee would never sanction that as every penny has to be spent on the charity course. OMG..! What about supporting ME..?? Museums are somewhat similar, even the other places that harbour some form of interest in flying boats, just will not part with a sensible fee. Yet, they all contact me and expect me to simply roll over and fill my pages with un-paid for adverts promoting them! Christ, I don't even get the offer of a free ticket to go to the damn museum for my trouble.

The strange thing is there is a link between all of the aforementioned; everyone of them has a connection with flying boats; they make models of them, they act as a historical resource for them, they display bits of them - or in some cases the real thing - they are all connected with flying boats and see SEAWINGS as a number one target for promotion. It is after all the largest flying boat reference website on the Internet. Yet, still they will not pay for that promotion and to keep SEAWINGS there for them to use in the future. But they value it highly enough to contact me regularly, indeed some consistently, yet always with the same cop-out when it comes to paying for it. What am I missing here? What have I done wrong? Why is this happening?

They say in a reccession that the first thing to go is the advertising. But, I'm still being asked even today (which sparked this posting) and I know that if I contact the aforementioned 6 model websites and enquire about advertising (I know this because over the years I have done exactly that) , firstly I will be 'checked out' to see that I'm not 'fishing' for information so that once I know 'what their rates are' I can under-cut them, or something silly like that. When I do convince them I am serious about promoting my site I eventually get sent the list of advertising fees charged, usually in a series of "if you have a box type advert so-and so- big, it will cost you this per month" and then the sizes are presented on a rising scale thereafter. Good God Almighty! Is THAT what YOU charge.....for this...? is usually my thoughts having read their fee listings. I have certain lists in front of me now and you would be staggered to know what the charges are. They run into multiple $100's if you take out a 6 month or a 12 month 'booking' - but of course you get a discount for booking that amount of space........

Then there is the sponsorship - donations by any other name - for the promotion of a companies wares and their business, on your site. Nothing wrong with that if you can get it and don't mind that a certain amount of editorial 'control' - for want of a better term - is lost. After all, what the Paymaster wants, the Paymaster must get within reason. Usually it's nothing too sinister, an advert placed on every page or a dedicated place for them to promote their wares but far larger area than a normal advert. That's ok too as far as I'm concerned. But, try getting sponsorship for a site that has no real commercial value - and there hangs the 'rub'.

SEAWINGS has no real commercial value in todays world. Right..? WRONG..!! Very wrong. The value of SEAWINGS is, and always will be, to offer flying boat reference material, photo's, plans, documents, forums, exclusive flying boat goods to sell, information, details - indeed anything connected with the flying boat era. There is nothing like it on the Internet; sure there are sites that feature flying boats and there are sites that feature old flying boat squadrons, but there is nothing like SEAWINGS where it all comes together and has room to continue growing and expanding. The Flying Boat Forum contains some of the most knowledgeable flying boat people on this planet, there ready and willing 24/7 to answer any question, research anything connected with the history of the men, companies and machines of the genre, it acts as a repository for scale modelers who could not possibly afford to travel the world viewing all the remaining restored and preserved flying boats in museums and private collections, yet with one click they can have available to them a multi-photo close-up detailed walk-round of the 'boat in question, right in their living room, just as if they were looking at their own pictures taken during a visit, they can have acess to historical documents that they would have had to have spent some serious money on - like flight maunals and the like - right there in-front of them, lists of books, types, models, so much stuff....and all for free.

And here is another thought for you; in the whole time that SEAWINGS has been up on the net, now in its 10th year, for all of that time NOT ONE PERSON has ever asked for a fee from me for the provision of their material. No one has ever asked for a fee, or levied a charge, for photographs sent in (and the walk-rounds can climb to well over 100 individual images each) or for anything else ever sent in. Not even a hint of an 'ask'. Nope, it has all been donated completely free of charge. Amazing..! And very unique I feel. I am so grateful to all those correspondents that make this site possible. I'll say it again, not one person has ever wanted anything in return. Wow...!

That makes those charities, museums and other commercial concerns mentioned earlier look a little 'red-faced', doesn't it? Mind you, I'm sure there are plenty of charities, museums and commercial concerns 'out there' that would feel it quite a good deal to spend a small amount on an advert on SEAWINGS to reach so many interested parties; it's just that they havn't contacted me as yet.

I live in hope that they will....................and soon.

In the meantime, SEAWINGS has to live on donations I'm afraid together with whatever I can afford to keep it running, all a bit 'shakey' especially in this world where costs always seem to rise, never go down. So, I have once again proffered the begging bowl and the call is being answered; in the past five days 9 individuals have very kindly sent in a donation. I am extremely grateful to them, and they know that because I make a point of thanking everyone personally at the time. But, here's a thought for you; how many individuals view SEAWINGS in the course of a year. I can tell you that because I have a programme that records the numbers: over 29,569 unique viewers in th epast 12 months!!. I receive 20+ emails per week telling me how good someone has found the site to be for them. Yet, each time the donation comes in it's nearly always from the same very small set of 'hard-core' usual suspects, that very unique band of supporter, friend, fellow enthusiast, the sort of chaps that, if you turned up on their doorstep cold, wet and tired you would be fed, watered and given a place to sleep - all without question. To these guys, all the viewers owe a great deal so far; but, they can't keep doing it.

So far in this present 'campaign'  to now I have received 9 individual donations.................

Now, if everybody donated just a £1.00 each..............that would be a different story.


Monday 27 September 2010

Saro Princess 1/72 scale Vac-Form Kit - Part 6 Nearly there.......!

Jim has sent in his latest instalment of his 'Build Log' for the Saro Princess. Jim say's:

"The picture below shows me creating the forward wing fillet with epoxy putty - in the UK that would be simialr to Milliputt. Here, I'm taping the wing to the hull, and placing plastic wrap (clingfilm) around the hull to keep the epoxy from bonding onto the hull, then blended the epoxy to the wing with a wet finger (water). Then, I let it cure in-place overnight and in the morning remove the wing with the fillet attached".

"The large fillet seen on the rear of the wing - under the blue tape in the picture - was cut earlier from the original hull vacform, to allow the wing to be dropped in place. The wing will not now be attached to the hull until both the wing and hull are completely finished, painted and decaled".

"At last..! Painting in the spray booth - always a sign that we are nearing the end, or ar at least at the beginning of the end! Because of the size of the model, my Paasch airbrush was not up to the job. This is a job for a spray can. The top of the hull has already been painted white".

"Now it is masked off and in this picture above the lower hull is getting a covering of Light Aircraft Gray colour. The hull is being held by adjustable pliers which are clamped onto a balsa bulkhead, glued within the hull. This, of course, won't be seen once the wing is on. Coming in episode 7......making and placing the decals". 

It is always satisfying to get some paint on a model project as it signifies so much. You might simply be putting on an undercoat so that it will reveal all the little miniscule places where extra attention - usually filler - have to be  re-worked to smooth out a joint or two. Or, simply in the case of Jim's  build, it's the beginning of the end - the end is in sight. But, what it does do more than anything, is bring the model to life. There is going to be a major difference the next time we see the Princess now that the paint is going on. I for one can't wait..!

Regards, SEAWINGS. 

Tuesday 21 September 2010

SARO Princess 1/72 scale Vac-Form Kit - Part 5 The coming together......!

Well, this is the one we have all been waiting for..! 
Jim Lund has continued apace with his skilled build of Mike Herrill's recently released kit of the Princess and I have just received this past week's build photo log from Jim showing the latest stages of construction. 
Jim say's:
"This week I am working on the tail assembly as you can see in the first picture. This shows the horizontal pieces scribed, rubbed down and ready for gluing together. You can also see the vertical fin and rudder taped together with the cruciform shaped spar installed within it. The aligns the unit and provides the proper dihedral".

"At this point, I would like to show a couple of tools that are handy for vac-form builders to use as they save a lot of time, are easy to use, do a great job yet are relatively cheap to purchase. I have used both of these on the build as you will see, shortly. First up is the Flex-I-File, an indespensable tool for filing areas where access may be a problem or a continuous smooth surface is required eg: on a wing leading edge, or in our case the fin fillet".

"Here is the Flex-I-File in action, sanding the fillet around the fin mounted air intake".
"This image is showing the other excellent tool, namely the 'Profiler' - (Note, this goes under several different trade names but your local D.I.Y. store or hobby store is bound to have one). Basically, it is a series of parallel metal rods held in-line closely together by a retaining (adjustable) bar and the idea is that it will serve to check if both sides of a sanded object, in this case the tail fin, match in profile (hence the name!). It is pushed into the fin as you can see and the fin shape pushes out the metal bars forming an outline of the shape at their ends. This can then be removed,  'flipped over' and placed against the opposite side to check if the outline matches. A simple idea and very effective in use".
"Above, are the tail components, ready for assembly. The cruciform spar template is shown here also".
"So, once sanded and the profiles checked for match each side - port and starboard - the tail unit was bonded (glued) and faired onto the hull. Bear in mind that the size of the tail fin alone is as large as a 1/72 scale jet fighter wing..!"
"Here is another view of the tail fin assembly showing a small amount of Green Stuff filler used to blend the joint in".

"This final image shows a trial fit of the main wing assembly. The next step will be to prime and fine tune the entire wing assembly, before committing to final glueing in place. The wing will not be bonded to the hull until the entire hull and tail have been primed, fine tuned, painted and decaled. In the coming week, I will be scratch building the spinners and building the wing fillets, all of which will be shown in the next instalment".  

Wow..! Does'nt she look great..! There is always a certain satisfaction when at last you can see what all the hard effort has been about. Just look at the sheer size of that...!

I saw one once, a scratchbuilt example at a model show, and was blown away at the sheer bulk of it. It brings to mind all the questions about how to support it for the rest of the build, how to handle it without turning it and hitting the adjacent wall and especially how to paint it. You're gonna need a bigger airbrush, Jim!



Monday 13 September 2010

SARO Princess 1/72 scale Vac-Form Kit - Part 4 Wing details & mods.....

While we have all been enjoying our week and week-end, Jim Lund has been continuing his labour of love, the 1/72 scale Saro Princess vac-form kit manufactured and released by Mike Herrill in the States - and NOW AVAILABLE through me here at SEAWINGS! (Just e-mail me for all the details). Jim is well into the build now having joined the hull and cut-out the massive wing parts as detailed in an earlier blog below; With that wing in hand, Jim takes up the story:

"Mike included this sheet of air ducts and other smaller parts in that kit, as he is particularly fond of details like this. He once scratch built a 1/72 Northrop XB-35 and included all the interior ducting and engine cooling fans, as after all he is an aeronautical engineer. I'm more of an artist though, and never bother with anything that needs a flashlight and magnifying glass to see it, so this item was trashed. However, for those that want to, they are perfectly usable"

"Now it's epoxy putty time. The floats needed filling and contouring and the radome had to be created, so two-part putty was used for this and in these cases I always use MAGIC-SCULPT resin. This brand allows plenty of working time, you can dip your finger into water to smooth and finish, and it turns rock hard overnight. (SEAWINGS Note: I'm not sure if this brand is available outside of the States, however the equivalent in the UK would be Milliput two-part putty).

"In this next photo, the lower wing with the balsa center section and wooden main spar and directional fins have all been installed. Above it, the top wing is ready to be scribed and exhaust pipe openings need to be cut out".

"At this point, I couldn't decide whether to have the floats fixed up or down? In the end, after much thinking, I decided to make them movable. Having carefully cut and separated the parts into individual items, I used plastic coated wire inserted into a plastic tube as a hinge"

"Having completed this 'mini-conversion' here you can see the wing tip float retracted, viewed from underneath the wing".

"And here is the same float, retracted, as viewed from above the wing. Neat, huh?"

"This photo shows the almost completed wing with the wing tip float in the down position. Now you can get an idea of the sheer size of this wing by looking along it in this shot - it is huge. Note, before the wing halves can be bonded, all panel and control details must be scribed in together with the wing tip float legs and hinges, exhaust pipe openings (1/4 inch styrene tubing will be used for the pipes) and leading edge intake slats. Finally, after much work the giant wing was finished as you can see here, below. And, Yes, that is a piece of A4 sized paper just above it....!"

"In the image above the Radome is now in place made from the MAGIC-SCULPT two-part resin putty mentioned earlier. Also here, you can see I've got the cockpit window frames roughed in".

"Some model building tips: Model railroad shops carry a complete line of styrene stuff that makes vacform building easier, such as tubing in a variety of sizes, styrene sheets from .005 to .080. and also rods of assorted diameters. Note: Before wing halves can be bonded, All panel and control details must be scribed - the wing tip float legs and hinges, exhaust pipe openings (1/4 inch styrene tubing will be used for the pipes)and leading edge intake slats. Next week, the tail assembly".

Well, what a difference a week makes! From a selection of huge parts and a lot of work on that wing the whole project is now reaching the point where all the major assemblies are complete ready for the final detailing, with just the tail to go. Given the sheer size of the beast, constructing that tail will probably be as big a job as a normal 1/72 single engine fighter vac-form kit! We'll see next week, as Jim say's.

Thanks, Jim.


Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Artistry of Tom Kalina - specialising in Airliner Art.......

Now here's a chap who is a firm believer in the saying 'you can never have too much of a good thing'..!

Tom Kalina, one of the most talented people I have known; not only was he the pilot of one of my most favourite flying boats - the gorgeous Sikorsky S-38 'Carnauba' replica (see SEAWINGS for a complete walk-round of her, also from Tom) - but he is also a very skilled scale modeler. And how many of us get to place their model on the bow of the actual flying boat type to take a picture..?

Tom's model is the 1/72 scale Czech Master Resin kit finished as NC-4V “Molokai” of Inter-Island Airways of Hawaii. 
But if that was not enough, just take a look at these paintings. Tom just happens to be a very skilled and talented aviation artist, something I was not aware of until I had a discussion with him and his aviation-minded brother - and long-time contributor to SEAWINGS - Tim Kalina.

Tom has a view of the sky that most artists don't have. He's been 'up there' for many, many hours flying around and where that stands out (for me) is in the cloud and sky aspects of his paintings. They are so realistic, and coupled with his attention to detail on the subject aircraft itself, make for an overall painting that stands out from the crowd.

For me, I find that a lot of people 'think' they can paint aircraft in flight, however I can number on the fingers of my hands those that actually accomplish the task to a point where there is nothing at all to criticise; the painting becomes at one with the subject and the synergy between the sky, the subject and my eyesight is more or less perfect.

I personally think that there are no more than a dozen or so aviation artists in the world that can achieve that perfection in oils and I would place Tom as one of that very talented circle. He has quite rightly, won several awards for his work and whilst the main theme is airliner based there exist within his prints some really nice ones featuring flying boats, and no doubt in the future there may be more (hint, hint!) And here is his latest work: just take a look at this - incredible...!

For a closer look, pay a visit to his website and take a look at the whole range. You may not be an airliner fan but you cannot fail to be impressed as I was, at the super high-quality on display there. The prints are priced very reasonably given their size and quality and would certainly look good framed on any aviation enthusiasts wall. Click here to go to Toms website.

Keep up the great work, Tom....!


Saturday 4 September 2010

SARO Princess 1/72 scale Vac-Form Kit - Part 3 Now for the wing!

Jim Lund has sent in his latest batch of images and notes charting his progress on the construction of Mike Herrill's new 1/72 scale vac-form kit. This time Jim, having built the hull, now turns his attention to the main wing. Jim say's:

"Here, I'm scraping and trimming the main wing halves. Because of the nature of vacforming, both the top and bottom are pulled around the nacelles. The lower wing must have the nacelle faces and sides removed to the center line, as the lower wing is the flattest of the two".

"The crossed-out portions marked in black ink here are to be removed to facilitate a neat join of top and bottom halves".

"Oh my, how quickly this sequence went, as we see the wing placed onto the hull. Sorry, this is just a tape up to check the fit. Now we face hours of tedious work. First I'll tape together all of Mikes 1/72 drawings, and trace them all...very carefully. Regardless of whatever drawings you prefer, you must use Mikes as the entire kit is based on these and only these. Then, remove the tape and get to work. All the panel lines and control surfaces must be etched into the plastic. Use a fine tip black permanent marker pen and then score with a #11 Exacto knife".

"Displayed here is what the builder needs to assemble this very large subject. You might be able to get by with a table 36" X 30", but not me. I need one at least 6 feet long to shuffle all the material around. Also shown are the tools you will need. The main spar and center core made of wood, carefully contoured to match the wing is shown here as well. More next week...!".

One thing that is becoming obvious as we go on and that is Jim's consistently neat workmanship and forward planning, both elements that are required for any vac-form kit to be a success. As it begins now to take shape the sheer bulk of it will become awkward as you try to move it around the workbench. I well remember hitting the wall with the nose of the XB-70A Valkyrie as I was building it, twisting and turning it to sand seams down! Also, another factor in a neat build is the work that has gone into the pattern making by the manufacturer and this one looks first-class and a testimony to the skill of Mike Herrill. Mind you, there is one other factor that is becoming apparent as the build continues; this is one very big model! Where are you going to put it when you have finished it.....?

Can't wait for next week's episode....!