Friday, June 30, 2006

In Defense of Repaints

Among Transformers fans, it's popular to hate repaints. For those who aren't familiar with the term, a "repaint" is a toy that uses the exact same mold as an existing toy, with only the colors changed. (Such toys are often called "recolors" for this reason, but "repaint" seem to be the more popular term.) Understandably, many fans prefer to spend their hard-earned dollars on toys that don't too closely resemble something they already own.

However, simple economics dictate that it is far more expensive to produce the engineering and molds required to make completely original toys each time, and repaints are a way of getting more profit out of each mold. This has been true since the very earliest days of the Transformers franchise (and even earlier, but we're not talking about other toy lines or companies).

So, repaints are here to stay. But as long as a little creativity is exercised, a repainted toy can still be a worthwhile purchase. For example, take these two small Dodge Viper toys. The one on the left, Side Burn, was released as part of the "Robots in Disguise" line, painted to resemble the larger Side Burn toy in vehicle mode (the robot modes look nothing alike). A few years later, the mold was used again to resemble one of the classic original Transformers, Jazz (again, only in vehicle mode, as the robot mode of this small repaint is one of the most boring I've ever seen. While they were doing a "repaint," a little MORE "paint" would have been nice...). It's worth noting that this mold itself was originally intended to be used years earlier, as part of the "Generation Two" line, but the mold was put into storage after the abrupt switch to "Beast Wars" we've discussed earlier.

Another example is these two figures. The one on the left is a small figure from the current "Cybertron" line called Starscream (You might even be able to find this one at a toy or drug store near you, although it took me a fair while to find it myself, and I keep track of this stuff!). The one on the right, Skywarp, was an exclusive given away for free to people who attended last year's San Diego Comic-Con. Since the only way to originally get Skywarp was to actually go to San Diego, this figure has been fetching prices on eBay of around $15. There's another version out there that was given away at last year's BotCon: Ramjet, which also can be found on eBay for inflated prices.

Related to the issue of repaints is the "remold" (also sometimes called a "retool"), in which some part of the original mold (usually the head) is modified to make a slightly new toy, in addition to the recoloring. Many Transformers fans, who don't care for repaints, insist that any reuse of a mold should at least involve "remolding," but it should be noted that although creating a "remold" is indeed cheaper than creating a completely original toy, it is still quite expensive to do, and so we will most likely always see a mixture of repaints, remolds, and original toys.

One particularly early and creative example of a "remold" is the toy on the right here, called Pipes. Pipes was created out of the mold of one of the very first Transformers ever produced: Huffer, seen on the left. Note the different styles of smokestacks, and the modified grille on the front of the cab. The back "hitch" area of each truck is different, too, although you may not be able to tell that from the picture.

The differences don't end there, though, for this is a rare case in which a remold was actually created to transform differently than the original toy. In this picture, you can see how Huffer's head was revealed just underneath the cab, and the robot details were molded underneath the toy. On Pipes, the cab moves out of the way to reveal the head molded into the main body of the toy, and the robot torso details are from the top of the toy (not including the cab itself). This also explains why the "elbows" bend differently on Huffer than on Pipes.

There are tons of other repaint and remold examples that I could pull out, some more impressive than others. In some examples, I would even go so far as to say that the "repaint" is a more interesting toy than the original. For example, check out Cannonball, a toy I don't yet have myself, which was repainted from Cybertron Red Alert (which I haven't gotten either). The Hasbro bio (unlocked from a code that comes with the toy) not only indicates that Cannonball is a pirate, but has essentially made Cannonball out to be the Transformer version of the "Dread Pirate Roberts" from The Princess Bride! That bio alone is incentive for me to possibly pick up this toy, although I never bothered with the original version. But, ultimately, the decision of whether or not a repaint is worth buying must be left up to the individual.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fanny Crosby

Anyone who studies the history of Christian hymns can't help but have heard about Fanny Crosby, who wrote the lyrics to more than 8,000 hymns despite being blind almost from birth. Naturally, most of these hymns are no longer remembered in today's church hymnals, although a great many are still sung regularly.

My wife and I have had the privilege of being invited to the home of Dr. David M. Scholer, one of the professors that I work for (David and his wife Jeannette and have been friends for years now, and David officiated at our wedding) to join a group of friends in a "hymn sing." During this time, we have sung many hymns that we have known for years, as well as a few that we have never heard before. One of the other participants in this "hymn sing" has recently unearthed a couple of hymnals from around the beginning of the 20th century, and copied all of the Fanny Crosby hymns he could find.

As we looked through the titles (and even attempted to sing a couple of the unfamiliar ones!), we quickly noticed several recurring themes. This is, of course, natural enough. Indeed, I expect that Ms. Crosby probably did not remember when writing certain hymns that she already had another hymn following a similar theme already in her repertoire, there were simply so many of them!

In fact, my wife observed that, taking the names of some of the hymns together, one could almost write a comedic sketch. Here's one attempt. Each line represents a distinct hymn title (note: if you follow the titles in your own hymnal, you may discover that a few hymns are not credited to Fanny Crosby, but to another name. Ms. Crosby used quite a few pseudonyms during her career. I have it on good authority that the lyrics [not the music] of the hymns listed here were indeed written by Fanny Crosby):

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me
Near the Cross
Nearer the Cross
Draw Me Nearer
There Will I Follow Thee
A Few More Marchings
Never Give Up
Only a Step
Jesus is Calling
Praise Him! Praise Him!
Safe in the Arms of Jesus
He Hideth My Soul

Monday, June 26, 2006

Update: G2 Breakdown auction

The eBay auction for Generation Two Breakdown ended with a bid of $575, made by regular rare-auction winner Delphan Rane. (Perhaps he already had G2 Dead End? Who knows?)

Anyway, my apologies for the lack of updates this past week. I'm still recovering from my vacation, and while I've been keeping up on my reading of other blogs, am not sure how best to make constructive comments at the moment. (It's too easy to say "this guy's crazy" and be generally negative, and to the extent I'm aware that I'm as guilty of this as anybody, I do try to take a step back....)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rare Transformer Auction Update: Catching up on Dead End... Now, Breakdown

I'm back from my vacation, but before I start writing about any of that, I have business to attend to. First off, catching up on the rare Hartman Transformers auctions.

The Dead End auction closed with a final bid of $2281. This auction was won by a totally different person than the winner of the previous 5 who, it would appear, has decided that he doesn't need to shoot for a complete G2 Stunticon set in addition to the rare TFs he already has (he didn't even bid on this auction).

The next G2 Stunticon up for grabs is Breakdown. I've commented before that this toy is somewhat less rare than the others, having been the 1994 Botcon exclusive (that is to say, the very first!). So I expect this one to go for considerably less than the others. Still, because this sample was part of the same production run as the other rare TFs being auctioned (as opposed to the run for the convention), it does not have the same markings as the convention package, making it somewhat more collectible.

The bid is currently at $510.10. Good luck to anyone who wants to try for it!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Vacationing

I'll be out of town for all of next week and part of the following. This means that I will not be making updates for much (if any) of that time (I may try to see if I can get access to a computer for my Monday updates of the Hartman auctions, but I can't make any promises).

No doubt the world will go on without me. :) In the meantime, check out BotCon 2006 exclusive Cheetor (in pre-Beast mode) at www.botcon.com.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Landquake has arrived!

I'm pleased to announce the arrival of the 2006 Transformers Collectors' Club exclusive: Landquake. Like Skyfall from last year, this toy is a recolor using transparent plastics of a combiner toy from the Energon line of a couple of years ago. Landquake uses the same mold as Kickback and Blight (all Energon combiner molds were used twice, even in Energon). Frankly, I like this color scheme better.

Unlike Skyfall, who is an Autobot, Landquake is a Decepticon (i.e. "one of the bad guys"). This is no doubt going to make for an interesting situation in a few years, as these exclusives, in addition to the 3 to come out over the next few years, are intended to combine into a larger robot. No combiner has ever intentionally consisted of members of opposing factions before.

Landquake has not yet appeared in the club comic (even Skyfall's apparances up to now have been minimal), so the inevitable tension between these two Transformers destined to be allies despite being on opposite sides has yet to be demonstrated. One can only hope that the writers are up to the opportunity, and don't have Landquake "join up" with the good guys too quickly.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Book Review: Praying with the Church

One of the blogs I read regularly is Jesus Creed, maintained by North Park University professor Scot McKnight. Some time back, his publisher, Paraclete Press, offered to send a copy of his book, Praying with the Church, for free to bloggers, on the condition that they would write a review of the book. The book arrived some time ago, and I was given roughly a month to read through it process my thoughts.

This book is not just about encouraging Christians to pray, or even to pray "more," but rather it is a tool for rediscovering the practice of praying at "fixed hours," and using specific pre-written prayers of importance to the Christian community. This was the common practice of the early church, but today is seen more frequently in the other Abrahamic religions: Judaism and Islam.

The first line of the first chapter spoke to me immediately: "Most Christians are not happy with their prayer life — they either don't pray often enough or well enough." (p. 1) I'm a strong believer in prayer, and do make it a point to pray at meals, when asked by a friend, when witnessing a situation that calls for it, etc. However, I've often felt that my prayers, as frequent and as intentional as they are, are often too shallow. With his first line, Dr. McKnight promised to speak to my concerns.

Now, I grew up in the PC(USA), which appears to have been a more liturgical tradition than Dr. McKnight's own (He comments on not being able to recall reciting the Lord's Prayer during a Sunday worship service . This has always been a part of my tradition.). Still, when he describes people's mistrust of using pre-written prayers, I can readily identify. I was always taught that prayer should be personal, and that it was too easy to "take it for granted" or "go on cruise control" if simply reading or reciting prayers that were pre-set for the entire congregation to read together.

My wife is studying worship and liturgy, in expectation of starting a PhD in this area within the next year. Through her, I have gained new respect for the concept of praying such "pre-written" prayers, and the value that such communal worship practice brings to the body of Christ. She introduced me to the concept of lex orandi, lex credendi, a latin phrase that describes the concept that how one prays influences how one believes. Dr. McKnight uses this phrase, as well, although he attributes a slightly different meaning to it, emphasizing the call to unity (p. 13-14). I have been led to understand that there are several such slight variations on how lex orandi, lex credendi is to be applied, so this isn't an accuastion that Dr. McKnight has somehow misunderstood the concept. In fact, I think he would probably agree with the interpretation I learned from my wife, as it really is quite compatible with the concepts explored in the book.

Dr. McKnight goes well beyond simply telling people that it's important to "pray with the church" in this way, but he gives concrete examples of how this is to be done, highlighting the practices of several different Christian traditions through their respective prayer books. I also especially appreciate the insight of using the Psalms as a "prayer book," which is a slightly different way of looking at them than the "Psalms as hymnbook" perspective I have grown up with. Generally speaking, all of Dr. McKnight's suggestions are rooted in Biblical exegesis and an understanding of first-century Jewish culture.

Any criticisms I have with this book are minor, but in the interests of full disclosure, I list them here, along with a few other observations:
  • Dr. McKnight encourages us to follow the pattern of Jesus in calling God Abba in prayer. While I am sympathetic to the intimacy that this instruction is intended to encourage, it must be noted that the word Abba does not have have the same meaning to 21st-century English speakers that it would have had for 1st-century Aramaic-speaking Jesus. Also, I am aware that, to pray to God as "Father" (arguably the closest English equivalent) is a very painful matter for many people who have had broken or abusive relationships with their human fathers, and no one would argue for importing those painful feelings into our relationship with God. In any event, I would suggest that Dr. McKnight goes too quickly from noting that the use of Abba is Jesus' own practice to suggesting that Jesus instructed his disciples to use the term (p. 43). Perhaps Dr. McKnight has additional exegetical reasons for making this claim, but I just don't see this as a command of Jesus.
  • Very mild problem, but in detailing certain ancient prayers that might be adopted for daily prayer (see p. 48), Dr. McKnight uses what I call "King James English" in the prayers. (i.e. "art" instead of "are," "thou" instead of "you," "thy" instead of "your," etc.) I believe this practice to be obsolete and confusing. God does not speak in a form of English that God's people haven't even used for hundreds of years! (In fact, this kind of language was already out of date in the 17th century when the KJV was translated. The translators apparently wanted to use archaic language to convey that the Bible itself was ancient....) Prayers should be prayed in the language of the person praying, not some outdated version that no one would use in conversation. If using a prayer originally written in another language, use a modern translation that one can readily understand.
  • Not a criticism, per se, but it bears special mention. Dr. McKnight argues that Jesus instructed his disciples to recite the Lord's Prayer as one of these repeated "pre-written" prayers. Although this is certainly the practice of my own tradition, and indeed of much of the Christian Church, I have actually been taught exactly the opposite: that Jesus intended the Lord's Prayer to be a model of the type of prayer he wished his followers to pray, not the exact prayer to be prayed itself. I'm actually inclined to agree with Dr. McKnight's reasoning here, but confess that this is something of a paradigm shift for me.
  • A confession: When I started reading this book, I attempted to put these ideals of fixed prayer to practice. I set the alarm in my Palm Pilot (which I carry with me almost everywhere) to remind me to pray at 7:00 am, 12:00 noon, and 5:00 pm, following Dr. McKnight's suggestion to set times that follow natural breaks in the day. Unfortunately, I have found it extremely difficult to maintain this practice consistently in the past few weeks. This will, obviously, be a new habit that will take some time to cultivate, a fact that Dr. McKnight himself acknowledges at the book's conclusion, encouraging people like me to take heart and to set realistic expectations.
Paraclete Press is offering a special promotion on Praying with the Church. If you order a copy through their web site by June 30th and use coupon code PRBLOG, they will send you a free copy of one of Dr. McKnight's other books, The Jesus Creed, from which his blog site takes its name (or is it vice-versa?). Paraclete specifically hopes that even people who already own The Jesus Creed might take advantage of this offer, and perhaps be inspired to give the extra copy as a gift to a friend. Also, I'd encourage you to check out the other blogs listed as part of the "blog tour." The list is on their main page.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Going Too Far?

Other than the occasional Slacktivist "Left Behind Friday," I've not commented too much on the Left Behind phenomenon. This is mostly because I have not, in fact, read any of the books (although I did watch the first movie when it was screened at my seminary for free, followed by a discussion with producer Ralph Winter and Dr. David M. Scholer, one of our New Testament professors). Still, I find the popularity of the line (which is releasing its latest prequel novel about the rise of the Antichrist today, timed to coincide with the date "06/06/06") troubling, not least because it espouses a theology of the end times that is at odds with sound biblical exegesis (not to hear the supporters tell it, of course).

For the most part, this is simply an area where I must allow the differences of opinion to stand. I have no expectation that any commentary I can make would do much to stem the tide of "Left Behind mania." However, I came upon this article (which, in turn, cites this more expansive article) that makes me especially uneasy. It details the upcoming Left Behind video game, subtitled Eternal Forces.

Now, when they use the word "forces," they do seem to mean, on at least some level, spiritual forces of God and prayer. However, the more obvious use of the word "forces" (i.e., military forces) seems clearly intended by the description of the game. And lest one think that this is just the way that a couple of leftist sites have described the game, here are a couple of quotes from the official "Left Behind Games" web site.

· Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.

· Control more than 30 units types - from Prayer Warrior and Hellraiser to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!
Besides saying that this fusion of military and spiritual warfare to mean virtually the same thing is off-putting, I'll try to keep any additional commentary on this subject to a minimum, rather encouraging readers to investigate this matter on their own, but the quote that I personally found most disturbing was this one:
The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.
Has Evangelical Christianity gone too far?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Dead End

With this week's auction from the Hartman collection, we move from showcasing Autobots to Decepticons. For the next month or two, the auctions will feature the G2 Stunticons. This week's Stunticon: Dead End.

Like the G2 Protectobots, the G2 Stunticons are a team of five toys that can merge into a giant robot form. Also like the G2 Protectobots, the G2 Stunticons are recolored versions of figures originally made in 1986, intended to be sold as part of the "Generation Two" line of Transformers in the early 1990s. However, when Hasbro decided the abandon the G2 line in favor of something completely different ("Beast Wars"), production on the G2 Stunticons halted. As a result, only 6 copies of this toy are known to exist.

I'd commented that, with the Protectobots, it seemed more than a bit silly to drop thousands of dollars on these things given that knock-off versions of the entire set could be found easily for about $5. That's not the case with the Stunticons. While knock-off sets for the Stunticons exist, they are not as easy to locate, and only use 3 of the 5 members of the Stunticon team (replacing two of the toys with members of a completely different combiner team). One of the two missing Stunticons is Dead End.

Perhaps that lack of availability explains the already higher than normal (for this point in the auction) bid for Dead End: $1009.99.

Friday, June 02, 2006

BotCon update

The folks organizing BotCon have just announced the next exclusive figure. This one's a pre-Beast form of Dinobot, using the Longrack/Hoist mold. To see pictures, just head over to www.botcon.com!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What Evangelicals Believe: Part IV

Statement of Faith article 4: "God, by his word and for his glory, freely created the world of nothing. He made man and woman in his own image, as the crown of creation, that they might have fellowship with him. Tempted by Satan, they rebelled against God. Being estranged from their Maker, yet responsible to him, they became subject to divine wrath, inwardly depraved and, apart from grace, incapable of returning to God."

There is much to unpack here, and I don't care to bore my readers with so much, so I'll just briefly hit the main points.

1. God created the world, and God created humanity - This is not to get into the "creationist debate" of whether or not God created the world in six 24-hour days, or whether or not the scientific theory of evolution adequately acknowledges God's work while observing what can be seen in the world around us. It is merely an assertion that, however God did it, creation did not happen by chance, but by a conscious act of and intelligent God. Most of the implications of this are best left for discussion elsewhere.

2. God created us for fellowship - The author of What We Evangelicals Believe is quick to point out that this claim is not made of anything else in all of creation (p. 59). The fellowship we were created for is not only between us and God, but between each other.

3. We rebelled against God, and have thus incurred God's anger - This is where we start having to look at the more unsavory aspects of Christian faith. No one likes to think of themselves as sinful. Few people like to think of themselves as rebellious. Yet it is important that we acknowledge this point. Without realizing the "problem" of human sin, there really isn't any need to look for redemption (which will come in future articles of the Statement of Faith). As Jesus himself said "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (Mark 2:17, cf. Matthew 9:12 and Luke 5:31)

4. We can't fix the problem on our own, but there is a way... - Some in the Reformed tradition speak of "total depravity," by which it is meant not that we are completely evil, or incapable of anything good, but rather that every part of us has been affected by evil. We simply don't have it in us to return to God. We want to do things our own way, even when that way is harmful to us. But even this most negative of statements contains within it the glimmer of hope: "apart from grace". By mentioning "grace," Article 4 pre-supposes that grace can come. What this means will have to wait to be explored until we can get to Article 5....

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