More Audio Upgrades

So, having got my Raspberry Pi/RuneAudio setup in place, I started looking at my audio system as a whole, and wondering whether there were any other aspects of it that were worth upgrading. I’ve had my hi-fi for over 15 years: it was, I think, my 18th birthday present from my parents. It had served me well over the years and still sounded pretty good using the speakers that came with it. However, it had some limitations. The remote control had stopped working some time ago. The Minidisc player was now essentially obsolete. I no longer had an aerial for the FM radio and it didn’t support DAB. With my CD collection now mostly absent, the usefulness of the CD player was now greatly reduced. So it was essentially just acting as an amplifier for the devices plugged into the two external inputs: my RPi, and a Bluetooth receiver that I mostly left unplugged anyway as it had an annoying blue light that flashed when it wasn’t connected to anything (which was most of the time). With this in mind, I wondered whether I wouldn’t do better to replace it with a dedicated amplifier.

If I were certain that I wanted to do away with all audio sources except the RPi, then getting a single-source digital amplifier would only cost around £50. There would, however, be no way to control it remotely, although for volume I could use software controls on the Pi. But more importantly, I wasn’t certain that I wanted to completely abandon CDs and radio. If I wanted an amplifier with multiple inputs and remote control, the cost suddenly went up quite a lot, plus if I did want a CD player and/or radio, those would cost more. Since I couldn’t get a set-up that really represented any kind of upgrade over what I already had for less than £300, I decided not to bother. I would keep the core of my existing hi-fi. However, I was still keen to try adding on or replacing other parts to improve the sound and/or restore or add missing functionality.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that there is a huge amount of utter nonsense floating around the world of audio enthusiasts. Believe everything you read and hear, and you could easily justify spending extraordinary sums of money on equipment that cannot possibly achieve what is claimed without using magic. This article provides a brief, well-referenced summary of the most widespread myths that abound on the subject. It’s worth noting in particular the section on well-designed amplifiers all sounding the same. This was a factor in my decision not to replace the core of my hi-fi. The amplifier sounds fine to me; it has more than enough power to drive my speakers at louder volumes than I will ever need, without any audible noise or distortion. If amplifiers did indeed all have their own sonic signatures, there might be some reason to replace it, but since they do not (ignoring very expensive specialist amplifiers which may well have a distinctive sound, as I see no need to pay extra for an amp that reproduces sound less accurately than a cheaper one), there is none.

One upgrade that did make some sense was to replace the speakers. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the speakers I already had, but I suspected that I could get some benefit from a better pair. Following some research, I eventually concluded that the best speakers I could afford were a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 220s. They do sound very good. I haven’t done any proper blind listening tests, but I do think they are an improvement over the old speakers; in particular the bass is a little clearer and more detailed. That said, the improvement is pretty subtle. The old speakers did a good job already so without spending crazy money I wasn’t going to get a huge improvement. If I want to improve the sound quality further, I could probably experiment with positioning the speakers better. In all honesty their current location isn’t ideal unless I’m sitting opposite them on the bed, which I almost never am.

I also decided I wanted to have the option to listen to the radio again. The RPi setup can stream Internet radio, but with a perfectly good FM receiver it would make more sense to use that where available. Buying a new VHF aerial was all I needed to restore the radio to working order.

However, I also wanted to be able to listen to DAB broadcasts (especially Radio 6music). This would require additional hardware. I eventually got an Ocean Digital DBA-01B, which in addition to receiving digital radio (including DAB+ in case that is ever introduced in the UK) could also act as a Bluetooth receiver. Since I only have two external inputs for my hi-fi, I would have to remove the Bluetooth receiver I already had, so having this feature on the new device was a plus. Even though I don’t use it very much, it was nice to keep it as an option.

At this point my hi-fi setup is complete. It now does everything I want it to do and sounds great.

Hi-fi
(Click for larger image)

I did still have one more thing to get, though. I now had a spare pair of good quality speakers. They weren’t much use on their own, but with the addition of a small amplifier, I was able to hook them up to my computer, where they represent a vast improvement over the fairly basic pair of Logitech speakers I had before. Since the amp is small and portable, this also means that I can take the speakers downstairs and hook them up to a laptop, phone or portable player for parties etc.

Amplifier
(Click for larger image)

Mmmm, Pi

Since moving to Oxford last year, I have had a problem. I don’t have room for my CD collection. I have over 650 albums on CD, and I simply don’t have room at my house in Oxford to store more than a handful of them. Consequently they are still stored at my parents’ house in Witney.

Fortunately, I had not long before gone through and ripped all of my CDs to OGG/Vorbis files. This was originally so that I could listen to music when out and about. Back in the day I had carried my whole record collection around on my old iRiver DAP and I wanted to do the same with my phone. But this also meant that I didn’t necessarily have to take all my CDs with me to be able to listen to music at home.

I first tried connecting up an iRiver H-140 that I had bought on eBay to the back of my hi-fi. This wasn’t terrible, but was an awkward and fiddly solution. Although it was handy and easy to use as a portable player, it proved more awkward to operate while it was sitting on top of the hifi. The next option was to hook up a Bluetooth receiver to the hi-fi and stream audio to it from the phone. This was easier to control but could occasionally be glitchy and there was some loss of sound quality. I also wasn’t happy with my phone being the primary place from which my music was playing. I preferred to keep my home audio set-up independent and self-contained, although being able to control it remotely from the phone did appeal. What I needed was something that could play audio files directly, either stored on the device or possibly from some local network storage, and which could be controlled remotely from, at the very least, anywhere in the same room.

Since the first Rasperry Pi came out in 2012, I have been interested in getting one. However, for a long time, I held off from doing so as I didn’t really have any use for one. Now, however, I did. A quick web search revealed that there were already several RPi music player projects available, so it wouldn’t even be particularly challenging to set one up; mostly it would just be a case of buying a Pi and installing some pre-built software. Of all the projects out there, the one that looked the most polished was RuneAudio, so I decided to go with that.

At this stage the Raspberry Pi 3 had not yet been released and I was unaware that it was just around the corner, so I blithely went ahead and ordered a RPi 2. The built-in audio on the Pi reportedly isn’t great, so I also got a dedicated DAC add-on board. There are several of these available; I went with a Pi-DAC+ from IQaudIO. I picked this particular board for two reasons: firstly, because it included dedicated headers for a volume control and IR receiver, and secondly, because IQaudIO also sell a neat case that would fit the complete setup. In addition to the basic Pi, DAC board and case, I also needed a power supply, SD card (for the OS), USB WiFi adaptor, IR Sensor and USB flash drive (to store music on).

Once all the components had arrived, assembly was pretty straightforward; mostly just a case of screwing things together. The only vaguely challenging part was adding the IR sensor, which did require some soldering. Since I had gone for a transparent case, I soldered the sensor directly onto the board; it should be able to pick up the signal from a remote control through the case.

Raspberry Pi Sensor
(Click for larger images)

Getting RuneAudio set up and running was almost as painless. One thing that the documentation on the RuneAudio website doesn’t mention is that the install image is quite outdated. There are several bugs in this version that are fixed in more recent builds. Fortunately, updating the system isn’t particularly complicated and can be done through the web UI.

Initially, the system needs an Ethernet connection to be able to log in and configure it. As part of the initial set-up it can be linked to a Wi-Fi network and thereafter there is no need for the wired connection.

Once up and running, the Pi is controlled via a web interface, accessible on the local network at http://runeaudio/. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be. In practice, devices connected to the network via Ethernet can see it fine at that address, but Wi-Fi devices (such as my phone) can’t; they can only find it by pointing directly at the device’s IP address. I think this may be an oddity of our router rather than with RuneAudio as such, but I am not certain. Obviously, this is not an insurmountable problem. I could configure the router to give the Pi a static IP address (I am considering doing this anyway) and then bookmarking this address on my phone. But fortunately this isn’t necessary, as there is a RuneAudio Android app, which automatically scans the network for RuneAudio devices and also acts as a wrapper for the web interface.

So with the Pi hooked up to my hi-fi I now have a player containing my entire music collection, controlled remotely through either my computer or my phone. All that remains is to add support for an IR remote control. This isn’t essential, but for basic controls like play/pause and skipping forward and back, being able to just pick up a remote and press a button would be quicker and easier than having to go to the computer, open a browser and click on a button, or to unlock my phone, open the RuneAudio app and tap the control. Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to be as trivially easy as the rest of the set-up. I will need to install some additional software, and then manually configure it, capturing the individual codes sent by the specific remote that I am trying to use and then mapping them to the appropriate controls for the music player software. It doesn’t look hugely difficult, but it does look fiddly and potentially time-consuming. So I haven’t got around to it yet.

In the meantime, I already have a player that works as well as or better than every other option that I’ve tried, and which I’m pretty happy with.

The Labour Party

What, in 2015, is the point of the Labour Party?

I don’t blog about politics very often but on this occasion I felt the need to ask this question. Because it’s one that I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to any more.

At the moment there is a huge debate, both within the Labour Party and outside it, as to why it lost the General Election. And there are lots of answers being suggested. Ed Miliband’s lack of charisma. Scaring away voters by being too left-wing. Being out-of touch with voters and not doing enough to calm their fears of immigrants, benefits-claimants and the EU. “Look”, they say, “the public has elected a Conservative government. Since that’s what they want, the only way we can get them to vote for us is to be more like the Conservatives.”

Or possibly they weren’t left-wing enough, and failed to enthuse their base by being too close to the Conservatives. I think this second theory is closer to the truth, but I think there is something more to it than that.

Lots of people, trying to work out where Labour should go from here, point to the example of Tony Blair (among them, Tony Blair). They note that he moved Labour’s politics closer to the political centre and so won over the electorate by being the closest thing there was to what the largest number of people wanted. But all of them seem to have missed something that I think is important. Tony Blair didn’t occupy the political centre just because he thought that was what would get him elected (although that was probably a factor). It was because he genuinely believed that was a good way to lead the country. That there genuinely was a ‘Third Way’ to be found that would allow the already-rich to get even richer, but which would also harness their success to improve the lives of everyone else. Blair didn’t sell this as a surrender to a disgruntled electorate. He sold this as a genuine best-of-both-worlds alternative.

At the same time, the Tories were a mess. The party was collapsing under the weight of infighting and scandal. They had managed a surprise win in the 1992 election but by 1997 the party had lost all credibility and was nothing but a confused mess of xenophobia and spite. By comparison, Labour’s new vision was something people could get behind. Labour promised a change, and had a clear plan for how to bring it about.

Today’s move-to-the-centre-again advocates have no such vision. Instead they insist that in order to win the next election the party needs to shift its policies closer to the party that won the last one. That way they can get elected again. But what these people don’t seem to be able to explain is why they need to be elected at all, if all they can offer is a slightly watered-down version of what the other guys are doing.

Sure, a party has to get elected in order to be able to do anything at all. But if it wants to be elected, it needs to present a platform that is different from what other parties are offering, and it needs to believe in that platform. It might be a centrist, middle-of-the-road position, or it might be a more radical left-wing one. But it needs to have some kind of goals besides ‘be electable’. If a party’s only aim is to get elected, then what is the point of it? And why should voters vote for it?

Welcome to Sunny Oxford

Nearly five years ago, I wrote here that I needed to leave Witney if I were ever to find people that I got on with. And, essentially, I was wrong. Over the years that followed, I managed to find an active social life with plenty of like-minded friends, all the while continuing to live in Witney.

But there was some truth to what I wrote. None of these new friends live in Witney. Moving away wasn’t necessary, but it was essential to get out of Witney and do things in other places, particularly in Oxford, the nearby city where I had previously predicted I would find like-minded people.

And so, with a job in Oxford, a girlfriend who lives in Oxford, and a social life that largely revolves around activities that take place in Oxford, living in Witney was becoming increasingly inconvenient. Riding the bus (and even driving) between towns was eating up a horrendous proportion of my time. And so when a space became available in a shared house with three other dancers in East Oxford, I’d have been daft not to seize the opportunity.

So on Saturday, I moved into my new house on Bullingdon Road in Oxford.

I haven’t been able to take everything I possess; I will need to leave quite a bit of stuff in storage at my parents’ house for the time being. But I have most of what I need on a day-to-day basis and will be able to go back and pick stuff up over the coming weeks where necessary.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying my ten-minute commute to work by bicycle, and indeed the fairly short journey to wherever else I need to get to in Oxford.

AMTL Revisited

So, my return to painting was proving a big success. My Eldar army had more than doubled in size and was now comprehensive enough to sign off as complete, and I was all ready to move on to other projects. My titan legion was next on the list. It was more or less complete anyway; there were just a few things that I wanted to add before I could properly call it done. So I prepared a couple of Warhound Titans for painting. And…

I ground to a halt.

Well, not quite. But almost. I went from painting a formation or two a week to maybe turning out a model every couple of months. Moving to a full-time job meant I suddenly had much less free time and there were also changes to my evening schedule that meant I had less time for painting.

And so the months passed. And more months passed. In the end the small expansion I had planned to the army took over six months to complete. But at last, the army is finished!

AMTL Group shot

AMTL Group shot

AMTL Group shot

The most prominent additions to the army are the two packs of Warhound Titans. One pack is armed with Inferno Guns and Vulcan Mega-bolters, for an anti-infantry role:

Warhound Titans

The others are armed with Turbolaser Destructors and Plasma Blastguns, for a more anti-armour role:

Warhound Titans

In addition to the extra Titans, I also painted up a few extra Forge Knights. Recent revisions to the army list mean that these come in formations of five rather than six, so I now had two spare. Adding another three meant that I had a third formation.

Forge Knights

Forge Knights

Forge Knights

Finally, I added a formation of Crusader robots to the army. These are the only models in this army that don’t date back to at least the second edition of Epic. Old Crusader robot models are difficult to acquire and so instead I went for these 3D-printed models from Shapeways.

Robots

Aside from these additions, the army is the same as before, consisting of two more packs of Warhounds:

Warhound Titans Warhound Titans

Six Reavers:

Reaver Titan Reaver Titan Reaver Titan Reaver Titan Reaver Titan Reaver Titan

Two Warlords:

Warlord Titan Warlord Titan

And the Imperator:

Imperator Titan

These additions bring the total points value of the army up to a very nice round 10,000 points under the latest AMTL army list:

Emperor Class Titan (Imperator) 1,250
Warlord Battle Titan
Turbolaser Destructor
Turbolaser Destructor
Volcano Cannon
Gatling Blaster
725
25
25
50
25
Warlord Battle Titan
Support Missile
Turbolaser Destructor
Laser Blaster
Gatling Blaster
725
75
25
50
25
Reaver Battle Titan
Apocalypse Rocket Launcher
Turbolaser Destructor
Turbolaser Destructor
575
25
25
25
Reaver Battle Titan
Apocalypse Rocket Launcher
Volcano Cannon
Gatling Blaster
575
25
50
25
Reaver Battle Titan
Carapace Landing Pad
Quake Cannon
Quake Cannon
575
(Free)
75
75
Reaver Battle Titan
Apocalypse Rocket Launcher
Laser Blaster
Gatling Blaster
575
25
50
25
Reaver Battle Titan
Laser Burner
Melta Cannon
Plasma Cannon
575
(Free)
50
25
Reaver Battle Titan
Apocalypse Rocket Launcher
Laser Blaster
Titan Close Combat Weapon
575
25
50
25
Warhound Pack
Plasma Blastgun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
Plasma Blastgun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
275
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
Warhound Pack
Plasma Blastgun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
Plasma Blastgun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
275
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
Warhound Pack
Inferno Gun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
Inferno Gun
Vulcan Mega-bolter
275
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
(Free)
Warhound Pack
Plasma Blastgun
Turbolaser Destructor
Plasma Blastgun
Turbolaser Destructor
275
(Free)
25
(Free)
25
Forge Knight Maniple 250
Forge Knight Maniple 250
Forge Knight Maniple 250
Crusader Scout Maniple 150
Total 10,000

So that’s another Epic army finished. Last time I stopped working on this army I was planning to add, as a small separate project, a wing of Imperial aircraft. This is still my intention and will probably be what I paint next. But even though that will likely consist of only six models, I have no idea how long it will take. After that, I plan to move onto my Chaos army with the aim of bringing it up to the same completed state as my Eldar. I also have reasonably-sized armies of Imperial Guard and Space Marines waiting to be painted up, and vague plans for small armies of Orks and possibly Tau and/or Tyranids. But how long any of that will take, or even how much of it I will ever get around to remains to be seen.

Laptop DJ

Just over a decade ago, in my third ever post on this here blog, I declared that “generally, I can’t be bothered with laptops.” Most of the reasons why I thought this are still valid. Desktops are more powerful for the money, more easily upgraded and more reliable. And while we live in a more connected, turned-on world than we did ten years ago, smartphones and tablets have emerged to allow for computing on the go. I have both of these and between them and my desktop my computing needs have largely been met. If I need to do Serious Computing Stuff (or play most games) I go to my desktop. If I’m out and about — or just sitting in the living room — tablet and smartphone have me covered for things like checking emails or Facebook, light web browsing, or reading pdf documents.

Yet I am currently typing this on my new laptop. Why, if my computing needs have been happily met for so long without one, have I finally gone and bought a laptop now?

The answer is that I want to start DJing. By which I don’t mean that I intend to start laying down some phat beats in a club, but rather that I’d like to start providing music for people to dance to. For that, I need something portable and although some people seem to manage, my experience is that trying to use a smartphone, tablet or portable DAP doesn’t quite cut it.

And it’s this sort of thing that keeps laptops from dying out entirely: those situations where someone needs a real computer to do Proper Computing Stuff on, but they need to be able to do it in multiple locations.

So I started by buying myself a budget laptop. I was a little wary of getting a computer with Windows 8 on it but I had a backup plan to try installing Linux on it if I really couldn’t get on with W8. So the laptop arrived and I spent a few minutes playing around with Windows. Linux it was.

So I downloaded the latest Arch Linux install image, put it on a USB stick (the laptop had no optical drive) and got going. But, alas, there was a problem. Initially I thought it was a software issue and tried to fix it but eventually I concluded that there was a fault in the hardware. Without going into too much detail, whenever the video drivers were loaded, five times out of six the screen would go blank and stay that way until the machine was restarted. While I was able to find a workaround to stop this from happening, that in turn prevented me from launching a full GUI, and left me with only a console. I tried booting into images of both Mint and Ubuntu Linux and found the same fault. Since this model had at some time in some areas been sold with Ubuntu pre-installed, it seemed unlikely that it was a compatibility issue. Eventually this and a few other things led me to conclude that the device was almost certainly faulty and arranged for it to be sent back.

Just in case it had been a compatibility problem, I decided not to get the machine replaced and opted for a refund so that I could get a different computer instead. This time I spent a little more on a slightly better machine (although still fairly low-end) from Lenovo. This arrived and worked just fine. It even came with Windows 7 pre-installed rather than 8, which would have been a big plus if not for the fact that I was now very keen on the idea of running Linux on it. So although I could probably have used W7 quite happily if I had to, I once again set about installing Arch on my new laptop. Fortunately, this time the install went without any significant hitches and I am now quite happily running Cinnamon desktop.

For DJing, I am planning to use Mixxx. I have played with it a bit and it seems to do everything that I’m likely to need it to when playing for swing and blues dancing. However, it is currently limited by the lack of multiple audio outputs on the laptop, which are needed to play one track through the main output while using a second to pre-listen to the next track through headphones. Accordingly I have ordered a Behringer UCA202 USB sound card. I should then be able to use that for the main output to speakers or a PA, while keeping the laptop’s built-in audio for headphone pre-listening.

Hopefully that (plus a few cables and connectors) should be all the DJ set-up I need. So all that remains is to start assembling an organised, annotated library of music to play. I do have some swing music (and quite a bit of blues) to get started with and have sources for more. But a handful of CDs and a hard disk full of poorly labelled mp3s is not enough. I need to organise them and tag them with their tempos in BPM and notes about what they’re like to dance to. This will take a while.

Epic Eldar: the Revenge

So, way back in 2009, I painted up a fairly sizeable Eldar army for Epic. Later that year, I expanded it slightly. The following year, I added bases to all of the grav-tanks, but didn’t post photos here.

Then I moved on to other painting projects, and then stopped painting at all for a couple of years. But, as I have mentioned in previous posts, this summer I was spurred to revisit the army, filling in the gaps and enlarging the army to almost twice the size it had been before. At 12,925 points it has overtaken both my AMTL and Chaos forces to become the largest Epic army I own, and it’s also the first army for any system that I’ve ever really considered to be finished. There have been armies that I’ve thought of as ‘done for now’ but not that I have considered complete enough that I can’t see any reason to revisit them in the future. But I am pretty happy that there is no need ever to come back to this army; it is done.

I started out by painting some Dreadnoughts (Wraithlords). These are the old plastic model from the first and second editions of the game. Nine of them was enough to fully reinforce the three Guardian Warhosts that I already had painted (see below).

Wraithlords

Next up was this Warlock Titan. It can often be a mistake to rush in and paint the exciting models in an army first as it then leaves you with lots of infantry to slog through with nothing more exciting to look forward to, but at this stage I wasn’t sure how long my new-found enthusiasm was going to last anyway and it would seem a shame not to get an exciting model like this done while I was still keen.

Warlock Titan

Next up were these support weapon platforms. Like the Wraithlords/Dreadnoughts, these are old SM2-era plastics. They’re not equipped with the correct weapons for the current Epic rules; they should have D-cannons rather than vibro-cannons. However, the more recent models with the correct weapons seem to be very rare and I had no other source of D-cannons for converting, so I decided to just stick with these models as they were. They can be added to any Guardian Warhost.

Vibrocannon Support Platforms

One thing that was missing from my army was super-heavy grav tanks. I had at one stage been hoping to get the gorgeous models for these that were released in 2005 but they proved horrifically expensive. To buy one or two would have been an extravagance, but to get enough for the whole army was just too much for me to afford. So in the end I had to settle for the late-90s versions which, although not as gorgeous as the later models, are still decent enough sculpts, if slightly under-sized.

However, using these older models presented a problem: the Storm Serpent. This unit was not introduced until the release of Epic: Swordwind in 2005 and so the older range had no model. So I was forced to convert my own. For each model I started with a Cobra hull and used putty to sculpt a webway portal and mounting for the turret from a Falcon grav-tank. Neither of the Falcon turrets I had were armed with scatter lasers (which is the standard armament on the Storm Serpent) so I also removed the heavy weapon and replaced it with a scatter laser from another model. I’m pretty pleased with the result. I’ve done very little converting in this army; almost all of the models have been stock, so it was nice to include these models that were completely unique.

Storm Serpents

At this point I painted up an extra wraithguard stand. Bringing the total number of stands from eight up to nine meant that I could now add a full complement of Wraithguard to each of my three Guardian Warhosts.

I then returned to painting SHTs with this pair of Cobras. One downside to using these older models is that the D-cannons on these vehicles does to some extent resemble an enormous dildo.

Cobras

That just left these Scorpions. I think these are the best-looking of all the Eldar SHTs, whichever version of the model you go by.

Scorpions

Moving on from Super-heavies, I added some Vypers. In a game I’d probably be more likely to take mixed formations of these and regular jetbikes but here they are as one formation. These are the only conversions in the army besides the Storm Serpents; I’ve swapped the Shuriken Cannons that the models originally came with for the Scatter Lasers that they have in the rules.

Vypers

Although I already had one formation of Alaitoc Pathfinders in the army, I decided to add a second one. One of the proposed changes to the army list is to up the maximum size for this formation to 8 units. Having a second formation of 6 would mean that I would have enough models to take an 8-strong troupe if the changes went through but would still be able to use all my models if they didn’t.

Pathfinders

Next up were Aspect Warriors. I already had formations of most warrior aspects, but a few were still missing. First up were these Howling Banshees, along with three Wave Serpents for transport. As before, the Exarch and Autarch models are extras that can be swapped in and out as required.

Howling Banshees

At this point I decided to add another formation of Guardians, but rather than use GW’s plastic models (of which I still have plenty spare), I used ‘Eloi Established’ models from Troublemaker Games. More than anything else, I bought these for the heavy weapons platforms. As I mentioned before, GW’s HW platforms are quite rare on eBay. Buying these meant that not only was I able to put together a formation’s worth of platforms, but it was also a great source of scatter lasers to use in conversions; all of the scatter lasers that I used for conversions above came from these models.

Apart from the scatter lasers, however, getting these models also meant that I had two clearly distinguishable types of guardian models in the army. This means that if I use the Ulthwé army list rather than Alaitoc then I have an easy way of distinguishing between the ‘Black Guardians’ and regular ones.

I painted enough units that the weapon platforms can be swapped in or out if required.

Guardian Warhost

Returning to the Aspect Warriors, these Shining Spears Shining Spears were acquired from eBay in a fit of extravagance. I was increasingly unsure that I could convert these effectively so when they came up on eBay I got carried away and bid more on them than was really sensible. The contents of the pack are a bit odd. There are twenty jetbikes but only 18 of the little stands to put them on, so that the Autarch and his companion are attached to their base with piano wire instead. Secondly, although I am fairly sure that the model with the headdress is supposed to be the Exarch, the pack contained 17 of this model and only three others. Consequently I used the headdress-wearing model as the regular Aspect Warrior and the other three as characters. I painted ten stands (including a second Exarch) rather than eight, mostly because that was how many came in a blister, but also so that in a Biel-Tan army I would be able to field an Aspect Warhost purely of Shining Spears. Some aspects work in combination with each other, but I don’t think these do.

Shining Spears

At this point I painted up a second formation of Night Spinners, mostly just because I already had some.

Night Spinners

That left me with Warp Spiders as the only Aspect Wariors left to paint. Unlike most Aspects, they don’t have the option of Wave Serpents for transport.

Warp Spiders

With the Aspect Warriors all painted I moved on to aircraft. The Eldar aircraft from Forge World are really lovely models. First up was this Vampire Raider:

Vampire

Then these Phoenix bombers:

Phoenix Bombers

Finally, I added one last Guardian Warhost, transported in Wave Serpents:

Guardian Warhost

At the same time, I also painted up a Seer Council. Ulthwé armies do not have Autarchs as their supreme commanders but are instead led by a Seer Council, so I painted up this unit in case I wanted to use the Ulthwé list.

Seer Council

At this point the army was complete and I had painted almost 6,000 points since starting up again.

Eldar Reinforcements

At this point, partly for the sake of completeness and partly because I never posted photos here after basing my Grav-vehicles, I might as well add pics of the rest of the army.

Three Guardian warhosts, all of which now include the full complement of Wraithlords and Wraithguard:

Guardian Warhost

Guardian Warhost

Guardian Warhost

Rangers and War Walkers. These can be taken either as an 8-strong Ranger Warhost and a War Walker Troupe, or as two Warhosts of 4 rangers and 3 Walkers each.

Rangers and War Walkers

Another Ranger Warhost of 4 Rangers and 4 Falcon Grav-tanks:

Ranger Warhost with Falcons

The Aspect Warriors. Formations of Dire Avengers (transported in Wave Serpents):

Dire Avengers

Striking Scorpions (transported in Wave Serpents):

Striking Scorpions

Dark Reapers (transported in Wave Serpents):

Dark Reapers

Fire Dragons (transported in Falcons):

Fire Dragons

And Swooping Hawks (no transport):

Swooping Hawks

Two formations of Jetbikes:

Jetbikes

Jetbikes

The other formation of Night Spinners:

Night Spinners

And the Swords of Vaul. Falcons:

Falcons

Fire Prisms:

Fire Prisms

And Firestorms to add to the above:

Firestorms

Finally the support section. One Phantom Titan:

Phantom Titan

And a pair of Revenants:

Revenant Titans

Plus a squadron of Nightwing Interceptors:

Nightwing Interceptors

Also a set of objective markers (including a Wraithgate Webway portal):

Objective Markers

And last but certainly not least, the Avatar of Kaela Mensha Khaine:

Eldar Avatar

So that’s my army. Time for some group shots!

Complete Eldar Army

Complete Eldar Army

Complete Eldar Army

Complete Eldar Army

Complete Eldar Army

Here’s a complete breakdown of what’s in the army, using the army list from the current NetEA compendium:

Avatar Free
Wraithgate 50
Guardian Warhost
3 Wraithlords
3 Wraithguard
150
175
150
Guardian Warhost
3 Wraithlords
3 Wraithguard
150
175
150
Guardian Warhost
3 Wraithlords
3 Wraithguard
150
175
150
Guardian Warhost
(3 Heavy Weapon Platforms)
Support Weapon Platforms
150
 
50
Guardian Warhost
4 Wave Serpents
150
200
Ranger Warhost
8 Rangers
200
 
Ranger Warhost
4 Rangers
4 Falcons
200
 
200
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Dark Reapers)
Autarch
Exarch
3 Wave Serpents
225
75
25
150
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Dire Avengers)
Exarch
3 Wave Serpents
225
25
150
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Striking Scorpions)
Exarch
3 Wave Serpents
225
25
150
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Howling Banshees)
Exarch
3 Wave Serpents
225
25
150
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Swooping Hawks)
Exarch
225
25
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Warp Spiders)
Exarch
225
25
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Shining Spears)
Exarch
225
25
Aspect Warrior Troupe (6 Fire Dragons)
Exarch
6 Falcons
225
25
300
War Walker Troupe
6 War Walkers
150
50
Pathfinder Troupe
6 Pathfinders
 
300
Pathfinder Troupe
6 Pathfinders
 
300
Swords of Vaul Troupe (6 Vehicles)
5 Falcons
1 Firestorm
300
 
 
Swords of Vaul Troupe (6 Vehicles)
5 Fire Prisms
1 Firestorm
300
75
 
Windrider Troupe
6 Jetbikes
200
 
Windrider Troupe
6 Jetbikes
200
 
Windrider Troupe
6 Vypers
200
 
Night Spinner Troupe 175
Night Spinner Troupe 175
Engines of Vaul Troupe
3 Scorpions
 
750
Engines of Vaul Troupe
2 Cobras
 
500
Engines of Vaul Troupe
1 Storm Serpent
 
250
Engines of Vaul Troupe
1 Storm Serpent
 
250
Phantom Titan 750
Warlock Titan 850
2 Revenant Titans 650
Nightwing Squadron 300
Phoenix Squadron 400
Vampire Raider 200
Total 12,925

New Adventures in Employment

I have a new job.

Although in many ways, my job at Matthew Arnold School was the best job I had had up to that point, it was never going to be acceptable long-term. Being both part-time and term-time-only meant that the pay was not nearly enough to live on. Even living with my parents, rent-free and paying only a nominal contribution towards my keep, money was tight and I always had to be careful not to over-spend. Additionally the work was not something I would want to be doing on a long-term basis and there was no real opportunity for progression or advancement.

So from a fairly early stage I decided that once I had been there for a year or so — long enough to get enough experience to be worth mentioning on a CV — it would be time to start looking for something new. So at the beginning of this year, I started looking out for job openings with a vague target of finding something new by the end of the academic year.

In all honesty, I didn’t look very hard. I absolutely detest looking for jobs; it is one of the most miserable, demoralising soul-destroying activities I have ever had to undertake. And so as the months rolled by I only occasionally had a glance at job listings. I did apply for one job and got an interview, but was unsuccessful. The second job I applied for also led to an interview on the first of July.

So the interview came around. I never really know how interviews have gone but I felt better about this one than most. The following day I received a phone call offering me the job. I didn’t announce this widely at first, preferring to keep it quiet until I had the formal offer in writing. Soon afterwards the offer came, so I handed in my notice at Matthew Arnold, just a couple of weeks before the end of term. Despite a fairly half-hearted effort, I had got lucky and made my intended target.

Happily, the new job would not actually begin until September, so I was still able to enjoy the six-week holiday that I would have if I were still working for the School. This I thought was only reasonable as my pay for the rest of the year was scaled down based on the fact that I wouldn’t be working over this period, so it was holiday that I had paid for and was due.

So now it’s September and here I am as a new Junior Technician at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University. The job hasn’t been exactly what I was expecting it to be; I thought I would mostly be doing lab-tech work and instead it has mostly been IT support, which I was also expecting to be doing but more as a secondary role rather than as my main activity. But even though I’ve been here for a few weeks I’m not certain that I entirely know what the job will normally be like; the whole place is very quiet at the moment as term hasn’t started. Many people are currently away and there aren’t nearly as many students around as there will be when term starts. So I will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I now have a full-time job with a respectable salary, good opportunities for training and progression and colleagues that, on first impressions at least, I am inclined to like. So far, things are looking good.

Epic: further thoughts

Well, first up, it seems my predictions about the availability of Epic Eldar models was pretty accurate. Picking up a Warlock Titan, some Wraithlords (which to this day I still can’t help but think of as ‘Dreadnoughts’), Vypers and weapon platforms was relatively easy and not particularly expensive. Besides the Titan (which may be older), all of the models I have acquired are SM2-era plastics so neither the platforms nor the Vypers are armed with the exact same weapons that the rules say they have. However, while I’d prefer the correct weapons, it isn’t a major issue. In particular, I have yet to see any of the later, metal weapon platforms anywhere, so I think it’s probably these or nothing.

Shining Spears pop up occasionally on eBay, but they often go for quite a lot. But if I can’t get any of the official models then I don’t think they should be too difficult to convert based on Guardian jetbikes, of which I have plenty of spares. Going by the 40k models, the only major difference between Shining Spears and Guardian jetbikes is that the former have their power lances. There are also different helmets for the Shining Spears, but I’m not sure if those are meant to be exclusive to the Exarchs or not. Either way, converting a formation shouldn’t be too tricky, and a suitable paint job should ensure that there is no potential for confusion.

Forge World aircraft are not quite as scarce as I thought, but they are quite expensive. Ideas I once entertained about getting multiple squadrons of fighters and bombers have definitely been scrapped. One Vampire raider, a single squadron of Phoenix bombers and the Nightwing interceptors that I already have will be plenty, if I can even afford that.

That just leaves super-heavy tanks. The E40k-era Scorpions and Cobras don’t seem to be all that scarce, so I could always go for a few of those. But although they aren’t bad models, the E:A-era models are much nicer. The Scorpion, especially, is a gorgeous sculpt. None of the Eldar SHTs are must-have units on the tabletop so I don’t have to get any models for that reason (not to mention the fact I haven’t played for years and might never actually use the army in another game; shame though that would be). So the only reasons to get them would be because I like the models (in which case I should hold out for the newer figures) or for the sake of completeness in having at least one of everything. This last consideration might just have persuaded me to settle for the older models were it not for the fact that the older range did not include a Storm Serpent model, so unless I were to try and convert one I wouldn’t be able to include every option without going for the newer models. So for now I’m holding out for the newer versions. I’ve only seen one pair of Scorpions go on eBay so far (plus a pair of Void Spinners, but mine isn’t a Biel-Tan army so I won’t be including them anyway) and they sold for just a little more than I was prepared to part with. But I may get lucky in the future. In the meantime, I have plenty of other units to getting on with.

What is strange is that discovering that GW had dropped Epic seems to have triggered a resurgence in my enthusiasm not only to buy Epic models, but also to paint them. It has been almost two and a half years since I have done any painting and more than a year before that since I had painted with any kind of regularity. But so far in the past week I have managed to paint up five Wraithlords/Dreadnoughts and have almost finished my Warlock Titan. I hope to follow these up with the remaining Wraithlords and then move on to some infantry. I don’t know how long this painting kick will last. It may fizzle out fairly quickly. I also don’t think I’m likely to manage the same kind of output that I did back in 2008-10; I have too much else going on for that to be at all realistic. But I think getting a session in maybe once a week — or perhaps only every other week — would be possible. Time will tell.

One final thing. In my last post I pretty much wrote off the prospect of ever putting together an Imperial Guard army. I’ve since come to the conclusion that this was premature, not least because I have already started it. Back in 2009, when Forge World announced that they were dropping a large proportion of their Epic Range, I bought an artillery company and two companies of super-heavy tanks. And of course thanks to my AMTL army I already have all the Titan support I’ll ever need and some aircraft into the bargain. Infantry need not be a problem thanks to Troublemaker Games, whose forthcoming 6mm plastics will make for excellent Guardsmen. Their IFVs wouldn’t make for bad Chimera proxies, either, but as it happens they won’t need to. I have found a seller on eBay who is selling some models that look exactly like Chimeras. They have been designed by scaling down GW’s WH40K Chimera model and look very good as far as I can see. Also available are Hellhound copies and apparently there are plans to add models based on Basilisks, Griffons and Manticores, along with some infantry based on the Death Korps of Krieg. Leman Russ are also a possibility a few months down the line. How long these models will continue to be available before GW’s lawyers put a stop to them remains to be seen. I hope they can survive long enough to make some good Russ copies, otherwise those will be the one unit that I will be notably lacking. But if that does happen, I suspect I can find some second-hand.

That does leave a handful of other units that I will need to source from eBay. But with Imperial Guard generally being some of the most common Epic models, it shouldn’t be too hard to get the extra bits and pieces needed to finish the army. So, while it’s definitely a long-term project rather than something I’m in a hurry to get done right now, the Guard army is — just about — back on.

Out of touch

Well, I guess it shows just how horribly out of touch I have become from my old hobby that I have only now learnt that last year Games Workshop finally killed off its ‘Specialist Games’ range entirely.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. I was already aware that GW was phasing out production of metal models in favour of a combination of plastic and resin. With the Specialist Games range having been essentially unsupported for years with only the existing back catalogue of models available by mail order, it was pretty much inevitable that GW would just pull the plug rather than try and shift production of the mostly-metal SG ranges over to resin casting. But even though I was aware it was going to happen sooner or later it took a year before I was aware that it actually had.

Inevitable it may have been, but it’s still a shame. The Specialist Games were the only wargames from GW I still had any real interest in. Epic, in particular, is (I believe) the best game GW ever made. With new models now completely unavailable, the game can only become increasingly obscure.

The difference this makes to my own Epic armies varies. My Chaos army is essentially done. I would still like to add a formation of Chaos Predators to it, but I would want to do those with the older style of Rhino chassis anyway, so either way I’d be looking to use OOP models, most likely from eBay.

My Titan legion is almost as close to being finished as the only things I want to add are a few more Warhounds with different weapon configurations. Once again I need to stick with the older Warhound Titan model for this army, partly for consistency with the rest of my army and partly because the E:A-era Warhound model was pretty dreadful. Fortunately, Imperial Titan models are quite common on eBay and I have already managed to acquire the last four titans that I need to finish the army. Whether I will ever get around to painting them remains to be seen.

I had been planning to paint up a number of Imperial Navy aircraft to support both my Titan Legion and any other Imperial armies I might put together at a later stage. I already have two flights of Thunderbolt fighter-bombers waiting to be painted so unless I were to start adding more aircraft that aren’t included in the army lists all that I’m missing is a pair of Marauder bombers. While it would be nice to have the option of taking a pair, I doubt I’d actually take them very often so I don’t miss them too badly.

More of a problem are my Eldar. Although I have a respectable force, the army is far from complete; there are many options in the army list for which I have no models. Some — a Warlock titan, for example — will not be too difficult to obtain second-hand. Others will be trickier. The various super-heavy grav tanks are rare, especially as I am not keen on the Epic 40,000-era versions of these models (nor on their older equivalents from the first two editions of the game) and would only really want the later E:A-era versions. I doubt I will ever find Shining Spear Aspect Warriors, although it may be possible to convert some based on ordinary jetbikes. And the old resin aircraft from Forge World will likely be either impossible to come by or at least prohibitively expensive.

Beyond this, any other plans for additional armies will probably have to be abandoned. Although it might well be possible to assemble an Imperial Space Marine army from OOP models, I would prefer to keep to the more modern styles of vehicles so as to differentiate them from my Chaos army and this would be difficult: most of the Space Marine models available second hand are older models. An Imperial Guard army might be a better bet, but would still be difficult.

Of course, I do have to wonder how much any of this should actually matter to me. I haven’t painted a single model for over two years. Although adding a few more units to an existing army is still something I might get around to (and, having just bought four Warhound Titans, I certainly hope so), there’s no way I’m going to put together a whole new army from scratch at this stage. It’s just not going to happen.

Lack of new models does mean that finding or recruiting new players is now harder, but in all honesty, that wasn’t something I was going to be doing anyway. At present and for the foreseeable future wargaming is an occasional hobby to be enjoyed with other gamers whom I already know. I don’t think I’m likely to be seeking out any new opponents any time soon.

Ultimately, the fact that it took me a year to even discover this news shows how small a part of my life this hobby has become, and therefore how big a deal this isn’t.