Saturday 31 December 2011

Home is where the heart is...

After last year's Christmas being the worst in years, with a last-minute cancellation to the first Christmas I was looking forward to in years, and no gifts from anyone I gave gifts to (I know, it's not the "Christmas spirit" of giving to expect gifts, but when you are rejected by everyone at that time of year, it makes for a pretty depressing day).  And I wasn't looking forward to the day this year, as it just reminded me how much I hated last year's.
I think the last Christmas I really enjoyed was in 1986. Despite recently losing my mother in unexpected, suspicious circumstances, my family spent the Christmas holidays with our cousins, and the kids were told to pick *anything* we wanted as our Christmas presents from the current store catalogues.... my father with a guilty conscience perhaps.  Being young and greedy, I just picked the largest Transformers toy I could find in the catalogue (Metroplex)... and amazingly, I got it.
Since then, my family gave new meaning to the definition of dysfunctional, especially on Christmas, which was more a chore than a fun day for the kids.

Despite the forgettable childhood, one of the places I have a fondness for, is where I spent a few years of that dysfunctional childhood - Warwick in Queensland. It was the home away from home for me as I spend three years at one of the boarding schools there (Scots PGC College).
It might sound strange to have a positive impression of a "school", but this was more than just a school to me. This was my home for three of my most formative years as a child. Going back there a couple times since I left as a student, is like revisiting one's old home or neighbourhood... just to relive or remember ones childhood, or a better, simpler time.
And I think I was the only kid there that wasn't homesick, because I actually wanted to get away from the family. It was the best three years of my life (so far), and it was only while I was there last week that I realised that it had been exactly 20 years this year since I was at school there.
I couldn't believe it.
20 years!
Where has the time gone.

So last week, leading up to Christmas, I booked into a hotel, and planned ahead for the weekend away. With Christmas landing on a Sunday this year, I didn't have to work Christmas Eve for a change. I could use the 24th to drive there and spend 2 nights away from anything that reminded me of Christmas, or more specifically, past Christmases - missing my mum for the early, good Christmases, my Grandmothers Jocelyn & Betty (the relatives I was closest to, and with both of them now gone, this would be the first Christmas that I wouldn't have either to talk to or even get the usual Christmas card in the mail) - I didn't want to be depressing anyone else around me with my own bad memories of the day.

I left home at around 2 or 3pm, and about 90 minutes later, I was driving through the centre of Warwick (it's south west of Brisbane, via Cunningham's Gap).
I saw signs up saying that it was the city's 150th birthday... which was an interesting coincidence. It was a nice touch to be in the town I liked so much, on a significant anniversary.

The town is large enough to have BigW & Target, but neither had much in the way of Transformers. (I'm a toy collector... did you really expect me not to do my "duty" and check out the toys?)
I did see this odd sight - 5 Transformers toys in the one store, despite it being rare to find just one in other stores:

Since the Toyworld was already closed, and neither of the Department stores had anything in them that I was missing, I didn't end up buying anything for the collection there.
I headed for the Buckaroo Motel, via Hungry Jacks (which had 95c Cheeseburgers... and I loaded up on Onion Rings).
Checked into the Motel, and the room was really nice:
The reason I chose this Motel out of the cheaper ones available at the website, was for its Microwave. I figured that I would be needing to take food to last the couple days there, as most things would be closed on Christmas, and anything open would probably be charging a surcharge for the Public Holiday.
I was also interested in it having a pool, but I didn't end up using it.
I told them that they didn't need to make up the room on Christmas, so that they weren't working too much on the day, but they still did anyway.
So the 24th was spent eating through my second Onion Rings challenge, and doing internet stuff (while watching TV of course).

I got up earlyish on the 25th, and after a quick shower, I headed out at about 10am. First up was a quick stop by the School... which at least would be empty of people, to not see me "casing the joint"... unfortunately that didn't end up going to plan. After about 2 minutes parked out the front, taking a few photos for my records, I suddenly see this guy at the corner looking at my direction. Perhaps one of the resident teachers living onsite, making sure I wasn't a vandal I guess. I wasn't really wanting to leave just yet, but I didn't want him calling the cops on me... so left.

The photos...
So much has changed in the 20 years since I was a student there.

A lot greener than when they were in drought 5 years ago.
Apparently I went up there in 2006, and took a few photos... based on the dates on my photos.
This one is of the same area, but a whole lot browner.

That is the street leading up to the school, with the main campus on the right. The Assembly Hall is next to the road, with the two oldest dormitory's to the right of that - the oldest one has the clock tower. To the right of that appears to be a church, which is new since I was there in 1991.

On the left side of the road used to be just the old wooden buildings, that weren't used much when I was there 20 years ago, but since then, they seem to have been done up, and more recently there's something big built there now.

The front entrance of the school, which used to be the Main Office when I was there, but was later moved.

Compared to the photo from 5 years ago...

Lucky we didn't have a drought during my time there as a student. It would have looked so dead and depressing.
Everything was so green when I was there, with the 1 or 2 floods each year, with the Condamine River bordering the school, breaking its banks and getting close to the buildings (but never actually reaching any).

Looking back towards the oval and gully (which would get flooded, when we had the annual flooding).

And again, compared to 5 years ago during the drought...

Looking along the row of the older buildings (assembly hall and dormitories - the one next to the hall was the dormitory I lived in).

And a better angle to show off the Clock Tower... I was one of the only students ever entrusted with the school flag and Australia flag, which gave me access to the Clock Tower when the flag was required on its flagpole during special occasions. It was a restricted access, locked part of the school, making me one of only a handful of students (during my time there) to be able to climb up the 3 storeys and look out over the school from the top. Even most of the teaching staff didn't have access. It was a big responsibility, that I was given for most of my 3 years there, and I was grateful to be trusted with the school flags.

That was the last of the photos I took this year, before being "chased off" by whomever was suspicious of my presence there.
Some of the other photos I managed to take 5 years ago, of other parts of the school, and the parched, brown land around it...
The "unused old wooden buildings" (20 years ago) on the left side of the road, all done up now.

The dormitory that housed the students who were grade 8 or less, back when I was there 20 years ago. They were kept away from the older grades, which acted like a quarantine... minimising the peer pressure element of the older kids over the younger ones, who would be more easily intimidated and stuck in an environment with no escape.
I spent some time in this Dorm as a "senior" over the youngens, and it was a lot of fun... too much fun. I could have been a bit more responsible, but did get stuck with doing most of the "chores" when it came to watching over the kids and their daily routines.

The river crossing behind the school - the river was a regular hang-out/play area on weekends.

The gully near the oval, with the small empty dams - during most of my time there, they were full, and even had fish in them from the annual flooding. They did drain one though, to use as a rifle range for the school's shooting club, and the army cadets.

The back of the school, looking across the river. I think that was the new Dorm they built some time after I was a student there, and I think that was the building that burnt down a couple years ago. When I was a student there, they had an old dormitory and an old dining hall (which had a recently built kitchen).

And this was a sports complex (on the left), also built since I was a student there. They must have had some big donors or benefactors since my time there... then again, it has been a while, and they were building something new every two years while I was there.

And the Church, which was not there 20 years ago. Every Sunday we would be bussed to a church in town, and the girls from their dorms on the other side of town would be bussed there as well. (it was a co-ed school, but the boys dorms were at the school, while the girls dorms were across town where the junior grades had their classrooms)

So back to the present... Christmas day 2011... I headed from the School to the nearby Leslie Dam, which the school used for sailing, and was a nice place to relax.
I was out there by about midday, took a few photos, and read some comics I took with me.
Now this was even more amazing, looking a how different the Dam looked between drought (at 17% capacity 5 years ago) and being full this year.
Doesn't this look so inviting, and it's only a 90minute drive from Brisbane...

The front looks kinda boring though (taken 5 years ago).

Here's the spectacular bit. From the back of the dam, you can really see the difference between its highest level (now)...

and its lowest (5 years ago).

The other photos I took last weekend.
Looking across the water from the "saddle dam" (a secondary earthen dam of only 5 metres high at a nearby valley, to "plug a hole" when the main concrete dam was fully constructed to its current height). At capacity, the water comes up to the saddle dam (it gives the dam an extra couple metres of water height).

And at the boat club building, which the school would use for its weekend sailing. The dam was full during my time at the school, like it is in the photo below, but 5 years ago when it was close to empty, the water level was too low (and too far away) for sailing. Another thing I'm glad didn't happen while I was there... as sailing was one thing that was fun to get out and do on weekends.

And over to the left a little. (take note of the rocky outcrop in the middle of the trees in this photo... it is actually half submerged in the water, and will be a point of reference of where the shoreline is when the dam is at capacity, when looking over the 2006 photos below this one)

Here's those same trees from 5 years ago.... the shoreline is some 500+ metres away. And look at the other side of the Lake to see the gap between the shoreline and treeline.

And this photo was taken while I was standing on that rocky outcrop. That blue arrow is pointing to a car parked some 500 meters away, and they were still some distance from the water. All that grassed area to the left of the water would normally be underwater... and currently is. The tree line is where Capacity is.

This one is a composite photo of several photos. That rocky outcrop is on the left, and all that grassed area is now back underwater. (click on pic to see it in full size)

And that shot above of people parked at the end of the "boat ramp"... here's the concrete boat ramp that is actually below the water-line, and was totally exposed here, to the point that the water dropped beyond the ramp, making it useless at this level.

This was a second access point, nearby, and that small tree in the middle next to the dirt road is where the water was up to when I was there last weekend. I actually parked under those trees on the right, and read my Transformers comics for a couple hours, with the cool breeze rustling the leaves in the trees and occasional car driving along the road behind me as the only noises. The lake was a perfect sight for this quiet, lazy day.

I shoulda taken a photo of this spot as well, just to have another easily comparable location... maybe next time.

And one more from 2006, to show how much water was missing.

I returned to the Motel at around 4pm. I got a bit hungry (I managed to eat the last of the HJs for breakfast), so I drove off to find a convenience store or petrol station... Found a Shell, and grabbed a few items.
Back in the Motel, I spent most of the evening watching NCIS (bought season 7 on DVD the other day) while typing up my Christmas Turkey Pie post.
Checkout was a fairly early 10am, so I didn't stay up to late.  I wanted to be showered, packed and off before that time, and got out with a couple minutes to spare.
During my two nights there, they only seemed to have about 4 or 5 rooms filled out of their 20... so was nice and quiet.

Between Brisbane and Warwick is the Cunningham's Gap.  They were doing roadworks this year, which meant there were barriers up obscuring the view, but I did manage to snap this quick pick of the valley below the Gap. It'd be a nice spot to stop and sightsee when they finish the roadworks.

On the way back home I stopped off at the Hyperdome to see what sort of boxing day cheap stuff I could find.
No toys unfortunately, but I did end up buying a heap of half-price christmas lollies & chocolates. A sign of how down christmas sales are, is by how much stuff they have left over afterwards, and how long it takes to sell it.
Stores I've been to since Christmas have had aisles of unsold "food" junk... even a week later at half price.
A lot of that stuff I'm keen to sample, but wouldn't pay full price to do it. It's just empty calories.

A bit of a side track there... As for the point of this posting, this ended up being the most stress-free Christmases, as I didn't have to do anything, please anyone, or buy people gifts and be worried about if they would like it. And I didn't feel bad about moping around other people, in case it brought them down, making me even more depressed.
It ended up being so much better than I had expected, I may do this travelling/adventure thing each Christmas. Driving somewhere new and interesting, to distract me from what depresses me about this time of year, could be good for me (to start enjoying the day once again)... and for those around me, who would otherwise be stuck with my moping, or putting on an act just for their benefit.

I hope those of you reading this at least had a good Christmas and New Year.
See you next year... :p

Friday 30 December 2011

More December toys arriving

So the previous posting (below) about another crushed box from a Taiwanese seller, kinda gives a hint at what I just received.
The rest of the Hasbro First Edition TFPrime figures arrived, completing the set of regular figures. (unless Hasbro plans to release the Vehicon in the "First Edition" series that Tomy has just done)
With the arrival of the Deluxe sized Arcee, Starscream & Cliffjumper, my TFPrime shelf is starting to look a little more respectable.

This weekend being another long weekend, I'll have a bit of a play, and review these here. So far though, from the ones I have already toyed with, these figures are unnecessarily complicated and frustrating, with almost no room to move on parts (or wiggle room) when converting them.
The last three series they "rebooted" or relaunched the brand (Animated, Armada, Beast Wars) to draw in a new, younger, generation of collectors, they started off with relatively simple, easy toys in the first waves, which were fun enough to want to buy more. The engineering on these are bordering on Movie-level complexity, which will put off more people than they suck in. First impressions count, especially on toys, as they are an expensive gamble. If a single "small" $25 toy doesn't "pay off", the kid won't spend his/her pocket money on more, and the parent won't either.

Another squashed box from Taiwan

Remember this box I got a few days ago? Well, the other package arrived yesterday, with the remaining TFPrime toys I ordered from him... and again, he didn't use any padding or filling of the empty space in the box. So once again, the box collapsed in on itself, as two of the sides were left structurally vulnerable from the void behind it. And once any side collapses, the entire integrity of the object is compromised, leaving the contents unprotected from being crushed.  Really, would a couple sheets of unwanted newspaper or junkmail scrunched up be that big a deal?? Was this seller that cheap that he couldn't even afford a few sheets of scrap (clean) paper?

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Transformers Review - DotM Action Sets & Tomica Diecast vehicles

From Tomy in Japan this year, for the third Transformers Live Action Movie (Dark of the Moon), a pair of Diecast vehicles were released a couple months back - one of Bumblebee and one of Optimus Prime with a Trailer.  It's the two main characters, so is expected... but I was very impressed by the detailing, and inclusion of a Trailer with Optimus Prime. (I would have expected Optimus to be release without a trailer, like the RPMs & Speedstars vehicles by Hasbro)

The two vehicles in the middle are the Tomy ones, while the ones on the edges are the Hasbro ones for comparison.  As you can see, the Tomy Bumblebee is slightly bigger than the Hasbro vehicle, while the Tomy Optimus is smaller than the Hasbro Optimus. Neither pair are in scale with each other, but the Tomy Optimus was probably made smaller so that it could include the trailer without being too much more expensive than the Bumblebee.
Note that the Tomy Bumblebee has opening doors, and a brighter yellow than the Hasbro version. But neither Tomy vehicles have the robot detailing underneath that the Hasbro ones had (which was a gimmick of theirs).
It is also noteable that the Tomy Bumblebee appears to be the Nascar version that Hasbro released as their Deluxe toy, but wasn't actually in the movie... making this an inaccurate figure.
The Optimus vehicle is about right, and the trailer adds to the versions now available for the DotM toyline (the Action set version, JP Voyager version, JP Chronicle version and the Ultimate version). The only issue I had with mine is that the grey box part of the trailer came apart easily from the blue base. It wasn't secured enough, either as a design flaw or a production flaw with the one I got. And from a design perspective, I would have liked to have the trailer at least open up at the back. It is too small to hold much (maybe a few missiles that are often easy to lose), but would have been a nice touch, or at least given both vehicles opening doors (as Bumblebee's doors open).

I bought these in November from two different sources (because neither source had both), for about $8 for Bumblebee and about $18 for Optimus.  Very expensive, so probably an "acquired taste" type purchase, or something probably best bought cheaper at the source (in Japan).

The other items being reviewed are the Hasbro/Tomy Action Sets for the DotM Movie line.
On Christmas Eve I finally found the last Action Set, so can review them all now, at once.
So far released are 6 regular Action Sets, 2 store-exclusive redecos and one large playset. The regular sets were released in Japan by Tomy, and maybe the large playset, but I don't think they got the 2 store-exclusive redecos though.
No other sets have been announced or expected for the DotM line, so these could well be the only ones now... especially now that we know that the new TFPrime toyline early next year will have a playset/action set concept (making it unlikely they would have two different lines of playsets at the same time).
So these are the sets we have here.
The 6 regular Action Sets
wave 1 - Bumblebee, Starscream
wave 2 - Optimus Prime, Megatron
wave 3 - Ratchet, Shockwave
The 2 store-exclusive redecos  - Bumblebee, Optimus Prime (both came in multi-packs of other figures)
And the large playset - the Ark with Roller.
(click on the image to see it in full-size)

On the right are the Decepticons (slightly outnumbered and outgunned), from the top is Megatron, Shockwave and Starscream.
On the left are the Autobots, with the Ark & Roller in the middle, and Ratchet out the front (the white one). From the top down, the ones "attached" to the Ark is the regular Optimus, the redeco Bumblebee, the regular Bumblebee, and the redeco Optimus.
(the action sets are able to attach to the Ark playset, but I didn't have them attached in this set-up, as the connections didn't line up where I wanted them)

Bumblebee Mobile Battle Bunker -I am so over the actual robot toy of Bumblebee, but the vehicle that came with this one looked nice in photos and in the packaging.  And it lives up to being the best thing of this set. The car-carrying mode is the best mode (the top left image below, but the grey trailer is shown upside down for some reason). The mini stealth-bomber is nice as a flightpack, but sooo out of scale as a stealth-bomber. The two weapons modes are quite good too, with no kibble... although the mode at top right is a bit of a cheat mode from its vehicle mode. 4/5

Starscream Orbital Assault Carrier - The best thing about this set was that the character toy wasn't a redeco of a previously released toy. The Starscream toy wasn't released on its own until 2-3 months later in America, and some 6 months in Australia. The other good thing about this set is that the vehicle accessory in the mode shown in the top right (below) is inspired by the Cybertronian patrol craft in Dark of the Moon, during the occupation of Chicago. The other two modes are bit, meh, though. And probably poor pairing choice, as the colours of both are very similar, making them blend together, despite not being one of the combining Action sets. 3/5

Optimus Prime Armored Weapons Platform - This was actually the first Movie Optimus toy to come with a Trailer, for the Hasbro/western market. The Tomy/Japanese market had a Voyager Optimus with a Trailer, but it would be another 3 months before Hasbro would release another Optimus toy with a Trailer (Ultimate version). Aside from the big gap between panels on the sides of the trailer, it looks really nice with this Optimus toy.  The only flaw was that it had to hook onto the truck in a way that it can't swivel (because the "hook" on the truck is "universal" for the different backpacks packed with the non-Action set releases. The weapons platform looks like the third mode that they designed last, as it doesn't really look like anything. The exosuit and trailer modes appear to be the main focus of this set, and make it worth buying. 4/5

Megatron Blastwave Weapons Base - The thing I like most with this set is the truck & trailer mode. This and the Voyager Megatron toys are probably the only ones we will get from the Movie line that replicate the full form Megatron had in the Movie.  The exosuit doesn't look too good with the "wings" sticking out the sides, while the weapons unit is probably one of the better ones, as it doesn't look like a "fan-mode" alt-mode. 4/5

Autobot Ratchet Lunar Crawler -The colouring of the Ratchet is weird and unnecessarily matches the partner vehicle. Bumblebee wasn't colour matched to its partner vehicle, so there was no need to do it with this one, especially since the other colour matched sets are robots that combine with their partner vehicle.  Probably the one good thing about this one though is that it's partner vehicle is designed and coloured to match Roller from the Ark playset. Then again, I think it is unnecessary, as it is out of scale, so would have been better in a different colour scheme. So the lunar rover mode looks nice, but the other two are pretty lame. The car-carrier mode doesn't work too well, and the weapons unit mode just looks like a squashed lunar rover. 2/5

Shockwave Fusion Tank - This is only one of two Shockwave toys (so far... and probably at all), so it is nice to have a smaller option. And it looked so good in pics... but was probably the most disappointing of the regular sets, and not just because my expectations were so high. The colourings look like it came straight from the Gen1 cartoon, which means it isn't very Movie accurate.  But the colours are the least of the problems with this figure.  The design appears to be very flawed (or maybe I ended up with a production error). The Shockwave figure doesn't transform into the vehicle mode properly. The legs and arms end up sticking out at an angle instead of being parallel like in the packaging pics and instructions. They have to be plugged together, but can't go parallel... as such, it looks wrong and then doesn't fit properly into the partner vehicle like in the top left picture below. I also couldn't get the arm weapons (gun and blade) to fit onto the weapons unit as shown bottom left below - the blade and gun are shown on particular sides of the missile launcher, but can only plug in on the opposite sides to each other. And then finally you have the other weapons unit (top right), which looks the worst of the three modes. So the two modes that look the best, are the two that are affected by design flaws. The best thing about this set ends up being the robot mode of Shockwave... and personally, I would have liked to have seen this set come with a Driller Monster or something homaging it from the Movie. Instead, this seems like a wasted opportunity, that didn't end up working out. 2/5

Autobot Ark with Autobot Roller - One of the first significant playsets released by Hasbro since probably Micromasters. We've had a few figures that came with parts that turned into weapons units, or even the microverse sets in Beast Wars, but an actual playset like this is something fans have been begging for, with just about every series that had a spaceship setting/prop. And the best thing about this set is that it is actually based on the ship in the Movie. The Ark folds out very simply to become a base, so isn't difficult or frustrating. It has enough gimmicks and features from the movie (like the Spacebridge pillars & CR chamber) to keep the kids and collectors happy. The main gimmick is the electronic feature, with a couple lights and sounds... but gets boring real fast. A criticism is that only one missile fires. Roller is a nice figure, but I think having Sentinel Prime packed into this set would have made more sense. The transformation of Roller is a bit too simplistic though, but works to give us two fairly decent modes. 4/5

redeco Bumblebee (Cybertronian Warriors Pack) - Very similar in colouring to the regular set, with the Bumblebee figure.  The Vehicle accessory is all grey this time, instead of half grey of the regular set. So not as interesting as the regular version, and I prefer the army green as it looks more "realistic" than the grey/silver & gold of this version. The other figures in this set are nice, but some odd colourings. 2/5

redeco Optimus Prime (Battle in the Moonlight) - This one has a black trailer (an unintentional homage to the Gen2 black Optimus trailer) and mostly white robot. Everything else is the same as the one above, but since the white looks really wrong, I don't like this version. Even the two figures it came with were ugly colourings, making this one even less desirable. 1/5

Lucky I'm not a sealed collector

This arrived in the mail last week - a 2-pack TFPrime set, in a master carton that can carry two sets... but the person who sold it to me sent it from Taiwan with no padding like bubble-wrap or scrunched up paper.

It travelled around the world rattling around loose inside a box that was twice its size, so any weight against it during transit, easily collapsed the box in onto the 2-pack.  Fortunately the 2-pack was pretty sturdy with its construction, so only ended up being crushed on the back end (as seen above).
I'll have to see what the seller says about it... I don't think I've ever given negative feedback on ebay before.

(an added note - this was actually bought for someone else as a competition prize, so I was lucky that they weren't upset about the packaging not being mint... but I still feel bad that I wasn't able to provide something undamaged)

HJ's Onion Rings Challenge - second attempt

After failing to reach my limit of Onion Rings last week, I wanted to revisit this with a larger supply to chew into... I just wasn't planning to attempt this again for a while, as it isn't healthy consuming that much saturated fat in such a short amount of time.
But Christmas Eve, I had the time (and was away from home) so decided to get this out of the way.
I was in Warwick for the weekend, and stopped into the HJs there, and ordered 10 large servings of Onion Rings, plus 2 Cheeseburgers (with added onion of course) because they were only 95c.
I also asked for some sauces, specifically Honey Mustard and Sweet Chilli, but the girl at the counter messed up, as she gave me Sweet & Sour sauce instead (which I didn't find out until I got to the motel with my dinner).

So at the motel room, I emptied out all the Rings, and after separating 50 of them to keep track of how many was my limit this time, I chomped into this mountain of fried, fatty food. (image below is of all 210 - if they put in 21 Rings in each large serve that one of the other stores told me).

The first 50 was easily eaten... I then separated another pile of 50, to continue the gorging.

100 down and I was starting to feel full. Which was odd, as the previous attempt had me eating 126 and a large burger before feeling full. (this was after 100 was eaten)

It was slow going for the third lot of 50, but I eventually finished them off, and that was as far as I could go... this time at least.

That remaining amount didn't look like 60, so I think the Warwick HJs must have had "smaller" Large servings to other HJs.
I had the remainder the next morning, with the two cheeseburgers (reheated in the microwave)...
The competitive nature in me wants to beat that record... but I won't let myself for a few months at the least.
For now, my official limit currently stands at 150.