Goodwill hunting

So you think you’ll take another piece of me, to satisfy your intellectual need…

It’s a pretty obvious thing to say I suppose, but until recently the Internet side of this hobby has been largely based on the notion of goodwill – volunteer effort providing the contributions, with the consumers (readers) hopefully being appreciative of that.  At one time though, quality reading, quality modelling and answers to an assortment of queries didn’t come nearly so easily.  Generally, you had to buy magazines, join a club or ask questions at shows; nothing was completely free, and folk accepted that things that were worth having were worth making some sort of effort for.

But anyway, the ‘free Internet’ is here, and it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.  On the various forums, contributors contribute, and the consumers consume, and that’s all fine and dandy as long as everybody is happy with their role.  But sometimes the relationship gets all out of kilter. Sometimes the reader/consumer starts to behave like he would with a ‘real’ consumer product, like the ones he might buy in Tesco or Dixons or Hattons.

There are some folk who seem to think that anything they could wish for will be set right in front of them, right now and in exactly the right form.  I’m not so much thinking of the legendary ‘I want a model of 44567 as it was in June 1964’ kinda thing, but more the sort of thing you can see with requests for info, such as for instance the perennial topic of pre-BR coaches carrying blue and grey.  A few people post info, the original poster might thank them (if they’re lucky and he hasn’t gone off at another tangent somewhere else).  But generally all’s well, then someone links to an earlier thread on the subject and it’s like a tumbleweed moment.  It seems that the expectation of somebody making one more mouse click is just too fantastic to contemplate, even though they’ll probably access more information by doing so.  It seems they prefer the answers that are placed in their lap within a few minutes, even though they might not be the more correct or complete answers that others have spent time typing out before, but are loth to do again for the twentieth time.

Perhaps the most breathtaking example of this that I’ve ever seen though, is the comment below, to which I was treated to the benefit of earlier this year:

“I don’t give a fig for what anyone has done before but do it again for everyone so we can all benefit from what you teach”

So there you have it.  Thirty odd years in this game, contributing to group projects, exhibitions demos, magazines, books and forums; long enough to feel content with what I’m about and not having anything to prove, and I’m still not doing enough for some.  Tsh tsh, there was me thinking it was a hobby.  And it’s not just me of course; many of my peers and contemporaries have invested a lot of time, money and effort, acquiring information and honing their skills, and now they’re expected to spend yet more time passing it all on in response to even the bluntest of requests.

When I set up Windcutter, I wanted to include several fixed pages covering the subjects that I’d been most asked about over the years.  A lot of it was based on the Rmweb six-week train set weathering thread, itself a reaction to repeated requests for advice on starting with weathering and something that took up a good chunk of my spare time over several weeks.  This was all done with the express intention that a) I didn’t have to repeat myself too much more and b) the reader would hopefully find it more thorough and comprehensive that way.  Now chappie above professed to have an interest in my modelling (although actually I think he was trying to catch me out as an armchair expert), but he didn’t want to follow the link in my signature; oh no. He wanted it all right there in front of him on a plate.

This attitude towards volunteer effort isn’t limited to forum members; some of the admins can be just as bad.  In the ‘don’t give a fig’ case above, the forum admins not only failed to control, but actually encouraged, a culture of poking fun at what they saw as a ‘rivet counting’ activity of appraising a couple of RTR models.  Now what they saw wasn’t necessarily what others saw, but the hostility was so evident and so clumsily targeted that many of the said ‘rivet counters’ now view the place as somewhere they don’t particularly feel inclined to contribute to. 

There are two sides to it of course, and I do speak from experience in saying that managing or moderating a forum is certainly no sinecure.   There’s an expectation of a ‘right’ of free speech, which simply doesn’t exist  – all of these forums are owned by someone, and you can’t just say anything you like on their bandwidth any more than you could say it in their front room.  Ideally though, moderation should be about a sensible balance, being  open to views that don’t  coincide with your own, allowing free-flowing debate whilst simultaneously upholding the forum ethos and keeping the peace.  It’s a delicate business, maintaining that balance, and some forum admins are rather better at it than others; one of the best I’ve ever known is now sadly no longer with us, whilst others couldn’t provide any real direction if they had a compass stuck up their orifice.  But all too often now, ‘moderation’ seems to use rather blunter instruments, tending towards opinion control and social engineering and abandoning any semblance of consistency, impartiality or objectivity.  

The above is also often accompanied by a certain amount of no doubt well-intentioned rhetoric about ‘doing’ rather than ‘talking’; unfortunately some of those doing the most profound posturing aren’t especially productive themselves.  But their faces fit, their manifesto is ‘right on’ – but don’t you dare hint at having your own opinions. They want your knowledge, and the benefit of your experience, but don’t even think about disagreeing with them, or pointing out their flawed logic or their lack of grasp of key issues; oh no matey, that’s too disruptive.

Indeed, it goes a long way to explain why so many independent thinkers increasingly eschew conventional forums and have moved towards the blog approach.  With a blog, whatever you put in does in a very real sense remain ‘yours’; it’s something you can do because you want to. Apart from producing the actual models, taking the photos and stringing together some coherent wordage can take a surprising amount of time – all of which is a further deterrent against doing it for anyone who thinks the way forward is to shame you into action with imperious and totalitarian attitudes.

A blog is also a good outlet if you feel your interests buck the mainstream norms – you can fairly assume that anyone who stops by does so because they want to see what you’re about, and not because they’re just grazing any old pretty pictures or ‘modelling by numbers’ that anybody cares to set in front of them.

As I write this, I’m all too conscious that I haven’t put any new content on Windcutter for some time, but hey, life’s like that.  Funnily enough, nobody is more put out about it than me, but a hobby is part of your life, not the sole reason for it, and sometimes the rest of that life gets in the way.  I’ve been fiddling around with a few things, but nothing really disciplined enough to warrant a blog posting of substance, and I’m not into fobbing people off with anything less.

I am aware that for some modellers, the hobby really is their life; maybe they live on their own, or maybe they have families but they don’t like spending time with them, which I find rather sad.  Maybe they don’t have to work for a living.  Maybe (controversial one this) they don’t go shopping for toiletries or presentable clothing.  Maybe they don’t find it important to maintain their houses in habitable condition. I don’t know, it’s their life and it’s up to them, but I intend to exercise full control over my hobby and the way I enjoy it.

But anyway; the ‘Net rolls on, literally devouring content  – of whatever quality it may be – and none of this matters to some of the more selfish ‘consumers’ out there.  In fact they’re not only selfish, but short sighted, because if ‘the Internet is free’ is indeed the way we’re heading, then the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ may also come increasingly to the fore. Meanwhile, the rest of us will probably carry on as we always have – being largely self-reliant and getting out as much as we put in, and still being prepared to help those who help themselves, but not so much those who expect carrying.

Globetrotting IPs

After an ill-advised skirmish on Facebook last night (on the profile of a third party) in which Andy York accused me of being economical with facts, he has today sent me an e-mail detailing the alleged ACP access attempts, the subject of the preceding post.  Quite how I can have withheld facts that I wasn’t party to in the first place is a moot point, but anyway – the info is available on request to anyone with sufficient interest – just drop a line to  this e-mail address.

There are four IP addresses listed in York’s message.  The information is in tabulated text form which appears to be typed into the body of the e-mail (not for instance as a PDF screenprint).

Not all of these IP addresses have usernames linked to them, but two of these are Kingston Communications addresses, which obviously ties them into Hull.  I already admitted of course that I’d clicked the ACP link, so there’s nothing particularly new there (other than that I may have been mistaken about dates, as it seems it could have been 19 October rather than the 21st when I first noticed the ACP link).

One of the other IP addresses is in the outskirts of Paris, of all places – I can assure you that if I’d been there, the wife would have had something to say!

The remaining IP address relates to Knutsford in Cheshire.  Interestingly, it’s timed one hour and nine minutes before one of the alleged KComm access attempts.  It’s about 120 miles from Knutsford to Hull; admittedly there’s a motorway and I’m not exactly one for tootling along at 50mph, but just over an hour to do 120 miles?  I don’t think so.

The KComm access attempt after the Knutsford one is alleged to have been made in Andy York’s ID.  This is something I would strongly refute – I have never tried to use his ID, indeed why would I when I could have no knowledge of his password?

York also admits in this e-mail that he accepts that a site hack is not within my IT skills.  So where is the danger to his site, and why is the suspension still in place?

Of course, that most immoderate of moderators, Dave Skipsey, has to be in on the action as well, clouding the issue with his flawed and unhelpful ‘logic’.  It seems from his comments on Facebook that Skipsey doubts the existence of the link that enabled access to the ACP. Well, the screenshot showing it is right there in the post above, but if that’s not clear enough, the full link appears immediately below the next paragraph.

Please note, the following links are provided for information only. I can’t be held responsible for the consequences of clicking on them.

There are also these two links in my stats, which have been fairly regular visitors.  I believe them to be threads that are in the moderator’s private subforum:

I have yet to hear a plausible explanation as to how these links appeared in my stats – other than the obvious one, that Rmweb admin staff are visiting my blog, for whatever reason.

Rmweb Suspension

This post follows on from Around the Ether on my main blog Windcutter – although that posting was of necessity enigmatic, I’m now in a position to be able to explain the events behind it.  Once again, my thanks to all those who’ve shown an interest.

These events concern my suspension from the Rmweb forum on 28 October last year.  Although this naturally gave rise to rumour and comment, I initially chose not to comment further as I had placed a complaint about it with John Greenwood at Warners (who of course are now the owners of Rmweb).  However, the situation has now been ongoing no less than three months, with little of substance having been obtained despite numerous reminders.  Despite my considerable dissatisfaction with this, I have reluctantly taken the view that my communications with Mr Greenwood have broken down and that little of any value will be gained by continuing to press him.

As those of you who have blogs of your own will know, blog stats pages provide a list of links by which visitors have accessed your site.   In my case these come from two main sources – the link that I place in my signature text on forums, and from listings in other blogs such as those in the sidebar.

On or around 21 October last year, whilst carrying out routine study of the stats pages on Windcutter, I noted an entry relating to Rmweb.  As I’d not posted on the forum since the July, this was by then a relatively unusual referral and I followed the link to see which thread it had originated from.  I then came up against this screen:


This Admin Control Panel (ACP) screen was not something I’d expected to see, but as I’d  hardly expected to have that advanced level of access anyway, I thought little more of it.  Not until a week later anyway, when the following e-mail arrived:

Suspension email

A later attempt to access the forum revealed that the suspension had been extended until a date in 2015.

This caused me to carry out further investigation into the Rmweb link.  As WordPress users will know, the full link address isn’t immediately visible in the ‘daily’ stats view, but when I obtained that full address, it became very evident why the link in question was tucked away behind the ACP. The link below is to a PDF of a stats summary page from Windcutter, and the link in question is the bottom one of the Rmweb list:

Stats referrals Rmweb

In a communication to a third party, Andy York has stated that to get anywhere near the ACP, one has to know the structure of the software and/or to access it via suitable links or permissions.  Anyone who knows me will know that I’m something of a reluctant IT user, and that the notion that I know the software (in fact any software) well enough to hack into it is frankly preposterous.  That leaves the availability of a link to the ACP as the logical explanation, and indeed, those stats prove this to be the case – the clear inference being that Andy York himself had made such a link available as a result of one of his own visits.

The facts are not in dispute – I clicked the link, I saw the ACP screen – but as a normal user, could have got no further. There is no way however that it was a deliberate hack – indeed, if I did have the knowledge and intention to do what’s been suspected, I’d have set up another ID and could have done it ten times over by now.

So, to reiterate:

*  Andy York, as a result of a visit to my personal blog for whatever purpose, has (whether by accident or design) placed a link in the internal blog environment;

*  The said link leads to his own forum’s admin control panel;

*  Because of my own perfectly understandable action in clicking on that link – curiosity at what lay behind it – Andy York has chosen to suspend me and subsequently portrayed me (or my account) as being a security risk.

I have explained the above sequence of events to John Greenwood.  I have requested that the suspension be lifted and for an apology to be made for the error of judgment. He has not contested my version of events, nor has he provided any other reason why the suspension should remain in place.  Other than a vague suggestion that my suspension will be ‘reviewed in the New Year’, I still have nothing of substance and am apparently expected to accept the indefinite perpetuation of what I see as an unjust and groundless decision.

I feel that I have been reasonable with Mr Greenwood, in terms of my demeanour, my requests of him and the timescales that I have accepted.  This makes it all the more regrettable that t

hree months later, it has been necessary for me to make recourse to

 setting out the above events here, in order that interested observers can make up their own mind as to whether they think I have received fair treatment.

Hello from Hal

1-Hal o' The Wynd Nameplate

Hello, and welcome to Hal o’ the Wynd.  The name, which is one that’s always appealed to me, will probably be most readily associated with the class 87 electric of the header picture (behind which in its pre-named days, I had a very lively run from Rugby to Crewe).  But before that, it was also carried by a Peppercorn A1 Pacific and originated, like so many others of arcane character, in the novels of Sir Walter Scott.  If you insist on knowing more than is strictly good for you about the literary Hal, then Google, as they say, is your friend…

This Hal is a companion blog to Windcutter, intended for the more satirical discussion pieces and to keep Windcutter free from the heavier politics.  It won’t all be my own work, I’m hoping to have the occasional ‘guest slot’ as well.

It’s not always a given that politics has to be unpleasant – in its basest form, it’s just people expressing themselves over something they’re passionate about. That said though, it does tend to bring out the less attractive side of human nature.  Now I know a lot of folk in the hobby wish it could be free of that, but whilst it’s a lovely idea, sadly, that’s not so and in the age of the Internet, it’s even less likely to be.  Sometimes it’s necessary to speak up, for things or people that you believe in; I’d hope not to descend to the level of nasty boys calling each other names, but Hal might nevertheless might contain the odd thing that causes a bit of squirming in places.  If this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine and I respect that; with equal respect, I would remind you that you have the choice of not reading any further.

From Wikipedia:

Satire is a  genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.

If you do read on, I hope you’ll find something that you can identify with, that makes you see something in a new light or just raises a smile.  And most of all, this is not a place for sanctimony or superiority.  None of us are perfect – and we should all be able to laugh at ourselves before we laugh at anyone else.

One last thing, comments are welcome (although moderated, for obvious reasons), and because of the possibly contentious nature of Hal’s content, I will always consider communications sent in the belief that that content is factually incorrect.  Dissenting opinion in comments is also fine, especially when it’s cogent and thought provoking, but I’m afraid I’m not interested in hosting circular and intolerant discussions that establish nothing.  There are plenty of forums for that sort of thing.

Ian Fleming