Thursday, September 29, 2005

Philly: Great City?

This AP article says that Philthydelphia will be the next great city of trendiness.

I grew up outside of Philly. Even living in Delaware, I probably still count as living "outside of Philly." All I can say is that anyone who thinks this town will reach new heights must not have flown through the Philadelphia International Airport. Philly is better than it used to be. But scrape the surface and it is still gritty, grey, and generally nasty. Once the Liberty Bell cracked, it was all down hill from there.

I would pick Baltimore as the next great city of trendiness between New York and DC. I flown through BWI and I'm not looking back. The problem is that Baltimore and DC are slowly merging, so it doesn't count as a separate entity anymore. Perhaps if the trend were short lived enough it might still count.

Via Joe Cathey.

The Anti-War Movement

John has made some remarks which have drawn ire from Christians of a left leaning persuasion.

Now let me preface my thoughts with a few things. It is completely permissible for you to be a good Christian and dislike George W. Bush. There are many reasons to do so. My personal peeve is that he can't stop spending my money, but he has also fallen far short of a peace-making Christian ideal. I'm not calling the man a warmonger, but his leadership style has definitely been more bloody-handed David than wise and peaceful Solomon.

But. Of course there is a "but."

But is the anti-war movement the way to go? I don't think so. Frankly, I don't see it embodying a peace loving spirit either. As Donald Sensing and Christopher Hitchens have pointed out, these are not people that oppose all violence on principle. They seem to have no problems committing acts of vandalism and physical intimidation themselves. Nor are they supporting any discernible peace process except immediate and complete withdrawal of our troops. Will troop withdrawal lead to peace? No it will almost certainly lead to Iraq descending into chaos.

Instead they are morally supporting the people we are fighting, who are not peace makers either. They are merciless killers of innocent women and children. Why are they killing women and children? Because US and Iraqi soldiers have become increasingly good at shooting back.

As I said, there are good reasons to dislike George Bush. I'm not a big fan myself, but you need to give me a good alternative. A Massachusetts liberal wasn't it. There are good reasons to hate the war, but you need to give me a good alternative. Our soldiers are sinners just like us, but they are saints compared to those they fight against. If you want to claim the high ground you need to be peacemakers not just war-haters.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Engineering Education

Slashdot is bemoaning the state of engineering education. It is even posting to this guy who left engineering for liberal arts.

Let me say a few things about an engineering education. The first is that it requires a bit of talent and skill. You need to be fairly good at math and science. If this doesn't describe you, then don't go into engineering. These things are requirements.

However, once the requirements are met, engineering isn't that hard. Most engineering is done by rule of thumb and simplifying assumptions. It is essentially lots of simple rules. This is especially true at the undergraduate level. Figuring these things out is a lot of work, but not conceptually intensive compared to the Theory of General Relativity.

And it's the work that matters in an engineering education. There is a lot of it and you need to learn to deal with it. It isn't incredibly difficult, but it is time intensive. If you can't take it, go somewhere else. You won't be able to party like the business and poli-sci majors. Sorry.

Now if you want a good engineering education, how do you know where to go? Well you need to do your research of course, but you need to keep a few things in mind. The first is that many of these college rankings are total BS. Many base the quality of an engineering program not on the education you will receive, but on the prestige and the research coming out of the university. A lot of it is based on grant money. All of this has very little to do with getting a good education. It may make your degree more impressive and therefore marketable though.

How can you tell if you will get a good engineering education?

First, are they ABET accredited? There are some good reasons for not being ABET accredited yet. For instance, a new degree program must graduate students before it can be accredited. However, they should be actively attempting to get accredited. If they have lost accreditation for any reason, avoid them like the plague.

Do the professors teach? Specifically, do they teach undergraduate courses. If the department relies on teaching assistants for more than grading homework/exams and helping with problem sets, you should go elsewhere. They don't value your education. TAs are the lowest rung on the ladder. They are the grad students who couldn't get research assistantships. If they valued educating you, they would make professors teach you. They value the professor's time.

If they use paid instructors for some undergrad courses that may still be ok. It means they don't value you as much as real professors. It also means they may have trouble in the internal workings of the department. However instructors get paid to teach, so they can get pretty good at it, unlike TAs (who haven't taught the subject before and won't again) and even some professors (who would rather be doing research). This isn't all bad.

Find out if the other departments are in good shape. You will be taking Math, Physics, and Chemistry classes. My college engineering department was great as were Physics and Chemistry, but the Math department was horrible. That's pretty bad considering I had to take 4 semesters of math.

Find out how you can get practical experience. Do they have co-op opportunities in the curriculum? If so great, if not plan ahead and get them yourself over the summers. It is worth it. Engineering is about practical application of science. That comes with experience. Do they have any courses geared towards practical application of what you have learned? Design courses are usually good for this.

What about research? Is there a good undergraduate research program? This is a good test for whether you want a future in academia or at least want to pursue a Master's before moving to industry.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start.


Oleg Volk is a great guy. He's a russian immigrant who done good in Tennessee. Among other things he set up the High Road firearms forum when another forum had to call it quits.

Oleg has an online gallery of his posters and photographs. He teaches this stuff professionally so they are quite good. While no more obscene than the usual art gallery, some may not be work safe.

Nano Tech

My local mall has an Apple store. This is usually of no consequence to me, because I'm not of the MacIntosh sort. Yes the iPods are cool, but they have also been over-priced compared to competitors like the mobiBLU cube. Thusfar, it has been possible for me to resist.

Now the Nano is out. Amybear and I played with one last night while window shopping. It is amazing. They have the same capacity as an iPod mini, but they are remarkably smaller in all dimensions. Yet I can still work the damn thing with my fat fingers.

My ability to resist is dwindling fast. Amybear, being the most intelligent woman ever, mentioned the fact that I might get one for Christmas. Smart girl. Now instead of thinking "gotta buy one gotta buy one" my stingy side is now mandating I wait.

UPDATE: My email account I use as a spam trap has a "Free iPod Nano" piece of spam in it. I actually read the thing before I junked it. This thing has made me weak.

UPDATE2: Here is a review. Again, it is sweet.


It's coming out this weekend. Woo hoo! The blogosphere is abuzz.

And on a somewhat related note, here is an interview with Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Urgent Prayer Needed

Remember when I had a prayer request at the top of the blog for a week? Well my good friend and one of your fellow readers need your prayer support yet again. It seems his father has taken a sudden turn for the worse. He is asking for prayer for his dad's health and for his salvation.

For those not aware of the situation, my friend's father is in his late seventies and has terminal pancreatic cancer. He may or may not be a Christian, the family isn't sure.

The doctors were expecting him to have several more months, but pancreatic cancer is unpredictable. The current crisis may be caused by complications of his chemotherapy regime or it may be the start of the end. They just don't know enough at this point. Everyone is certainly hoping the best but steeling themselves for the worst.

Please raise his father up in prayer, both physically and spiritually. Also pray for the family, that they would be have boldness and strength in the face of everything that is going on.

My friend seemed pretty anxiety ridden when I talked to him on the phone. He spent this weekend in Ohio with his dad, but came home to go back to work this week. He will be driving from Delaware back to Ohio tomorrow (Wednessday) morning.

Faith-Based FEMA

FEMA is planning to reimburse churches and other faith-based groups for the contributions in housing disaster victims from Katrina. QandO calls it obvious pork-barrel partisan pandering. They might be right. On the other hand, if you ask libertarians to trim federal pork, they're likely to put 90% of the federal government on the chopping block. It's an ideology thing.

I have mixed thoughts here.

I would greatly prefer churches go to their denomination and then faith-based charities like Samaritans Purse. That keep the Feds out of it and prevents this from becoming some sort of free money entitlement that will only corrupt the church's mission. However if the church can't meet the needs of these refugees without additional cash coming in and can't get funding elsewhere, aren't the Feds ultimately responsible for helping out in these sorts of situations?

Would this still be a story if the government were bailing out local community centers who have housed victims instead of churches who have housed victims? Probably not. Would the churches be doing the same damn thing as the community centers? Yup.

GI Gerbil

He's coming right for us!

Writing into a Corner

The Phantom Professor has a new lesson up. She titled it In The Zone.

This reminds me of an interview I read with Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other works. Dahl had given an interview about the techniques he used to write. Dahl said that one of the best ways he beat writers block was knowing when to stop writing. Stop when you are still in the Zone. He always made sure he stopped when he still had more to say. That way when he sat down to write more, he could pick up where he left off. He had some ideas to get him back into the Zone instead of being empty with a blank page staring him in the face. Ernest Hemingway taught him this.

It was very interesting to me because I tend to do the opposite. I write myself into a corner and then have nowhere to go.

Politics and Street Prophecy

John has an excellent piece on how the left is embracing spirituality.
But what is so fascinating about this thread is that the general consensus seems to be that 'religion' is a good thing. People adopt religions because they help make sense of the world, cope with the travails of life, and provide a moral code for communities.

In the abstract, comparative religion-academic sense, this is true. But one doesn't often see in this thread the sense that one follows a faith because it is true. I don't know about you, but when I became a Christian, I didn't select Christianity from off the shelf at the Religion Store after comparison shopping the value of Hinduism and Shintoism. I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior because his way was the only way that was correct.
Pretty much. There are deeply convicted Christians on the left who believe in the policies of that political persuasion. I disagree, but I will still call them brother and shake their hands.

There are also a lot of folks, especially in communities where being a priest or minister is still influential, that use these positions as a shortcut to power. Hello, Rev. Sharpton. Hello, Rev. Jackson. If you are a preacher and you spend more time talking about George Bush than Jesus Christ, I have a problem with that.

However when I see religion on the left, what they follow is not Christianity. It is Liberalism with it's Greater Good. The Christian aspects are just proof-texting and lip service. They've comparison shopped their ideologies and have realized that a few good bible verses might play well in Peoria. Frankly, I don't take this crap from my leaders. If you wish to become one of my leaders, I suggest you try something else.

If you want my vote, first and foremost don't try to deceive me. First, I'm not stupid. Second, the conservatives are much better at aping religion than you are and they're actually doing what I want some of the time.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Conventional Foolishness

The conventional wisdom about Iraq is that we are seeing more and more casualties. Why is this the conventional wisdom? Well because reporters aren't generally good at math.

Donald Sensing led me to this Belmont Club analysis. Long story short, the deaths this year have been almost identical to the deaths last year. Casualties this year (including wounded) are actually significantly lower, ~30% less. The news gets better when you look at numbers for the last three months. Then deaths drop by 20% and total casualties are down by 50%.

Well golly gee that's not what I though was happening. In short, the conventional wisdom is actually conventionally folly.

UPDATE: If you don't believe me this site has very complete casualty records, including a good summary chart. After some analysis of the numbers, it appears casualties peaked around the time of the Iraqi elections last year and have been declining since.

New Guns

I wrote a nice post here about Joe Cathey's new piece. Blogger just ate it and I have no intention of retyping it. This is what I get for using Blogger.

UPDATE: Ok the long and short of it is:
  • Aluminum frame=light. Good.
  • Dark color=low contrast. Good.
  • Four inch bull barrel? Good, except...
  • Bull barrel means a full length guide rod. Not a fan, I'd rather have a bushing and plug.
  • Kimber series II safety and external extractor? Not a fan, but haven't shot them myself.
  • Extended mag well? Why? Tacticool, but just more to print. If I were going to mess around down there, I'd do the reverse with an Ed Brown bobtail.

GodBlogger Meetup

Jollyblogger is hosting a Baltimore-DC area GodBlogger get together in Gaithersburg, MD. Even though I'm from Delaware, I've given serious thought to going. It would be on the way to Amy's after all. Amybear likes this idea a lot.

Unfortunately real life is intervening. I have to take care of things at home this Friday and there is no getting around it. Uncle Sam needs to have a word with me about some taxes. So no Buca Di Beppo's for me.

IHOPy Goodness

Michele went to IHOP this weekend and took pictures. My mouth is watering already. I went to one with Amybear and her parents a while back. I got the funnel cake breakfeast. Yes that is an intentional misspelling. Two funnel cakes, lots of fruit in heavy syrup, eggs, and sausage. Bloat. But oh so good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Christian Commerce Clause

Michael Spencer is worried that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may be another Passion of the Christ.

Specifically he is worried that the Evangelical church is being lead astray by the increasing commercialization of both ministry and Christian material. Most Contemporary Christian Music labels are now imprints of larger secular corporations and it shows in their message. Christian literature is following similar lines. In many was Evangelical culture has been sold out.

That said, I think many of his Passion-based criticisms are poor. Evangelicals were hoping that the Passion could be used as a major outreach tool. It didn't work. It was a just a poor film for that and ministers should have realized this after they had seen the movies themselves. The problem is that most ministers didn't do their homework. Instead of organizing showings of the film, organizing discussions seemed to work much better.

The Passion is a brutal, gut-wrenching film. It is violence and harsh and it is intended to be that way. It isn't a poor film. It does what it does. It gave me a whole new appreciation for who Jesus was and also who he wasn't. But even with those caveats, it is still isn't a movie I want to see twice. Maybe some day I will wish to put myself through that again, but then I'll just reread my old posts on the subject and call it a day.

Very Bad Jokes

So a Greek playwright walks into a Italian tailor shop and hands over a garment in horrible disarray. The tailor squints at the torn toga and then at the playwright himself.

"Euripedes?" the tailor asked.

The playwright nodded and said, "Eumenides?"

This horrible joke brought to you by Euripedes 2485th birthday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Places to Learn

After the recent demise of Kim and Connie's site, I was saddened to see the Nation of Riflemen forum go with them. Well have no fear, it has returned under new management.

Why do I mention it? Most of my readers aren't gunnies, but recent experience has shown that a few of you might like to start. Well if you are interested in guns, the NoR forums has excellent beginners sections. I normally shoot shotgun and a lot of pistol, but I am still learning the basics of riflecraft. NoR has taught me a lot of very important fundamentals like shooting positions.

Other forums like The High Road and more weapon specific forums like 1911forums will be of more use once you get farther up the learning curve.

Better Living through Dentistry

This morning I went to a dentist for the first time in over a year. The good news is that my mouth is in pretty good shape. I need a cleaning badly, my gums are a bit irritated with me, and my bondings have chipped again. Other than that my dentist says I just need to see him more regularly. It's a bit self-serving, but correct nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


One of my favorite gun bloggers disappeared without notice short while ago. This was decidedly odd. If you are wondering where Kim and Connie went look to this post, this post, and this post.

The 11th Urban Division

I had a thought about the military that I thought I would share. Our current force structure is built to fight in all terrain types and is specifically optimized for off road travel via HMWVs, HMTTs, Strykers, etc. Only we aren't fighting in open fields much right now. We are fighting in cities. The military calls this MOUT for Military Operations on Urban Terrain.

My suggestion to the military is this. We have divisions who specialize in certain terrain types, like the 10th Mountain Division who are trained to fight in (here's a shocker) mountains. Why don't we have a division or two specifically designed for MOUT? Instead of giving them off-road equipment that is sub-optimal for on road travel, give them road optimized vehicles capable of making turns at high speed without rolling over (something the HMWVs aren't especially good at). Much of this may be available COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf). Systems like this are a good place to start as are other commercial armored vehicles.

With the world urbanizing, MOUT is going to get more and more frequent. I think if we design systems for it specifically, we'll be better off. If we train soldiers for it specifically, that will also give us an edge.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Sword of the Spirit

I'm a weapons geek. This comes in handy working for the army, but it isn't usually much use in a church setting. The occasional bit of militaria does peek through, like the Armor of God section in Ephesians 6. We covered this section last week in study.

When Christians start talking about armor, we usually do so in the context of medieval knight. This is not what Paul is talking about. Paul wrote in the first century. Knights were cavalrymen who wouldn't exist for almost a millennium. The soldier of Ephesians 6 is the Roman legionnaire, an elite infantryman. So?

Take the Sword of the Spirit for example. Our vision is usually the medieval longsword. I own one. It isn't necessarily a heavy weapon, mine weighs just over two pounds. At over three and a half feet long, what it does have is a lot of reach. This is because longswords were cavalry weapons used to strike from horseback. The imagery it conjures up in our minds is the mighty knight, striking his enemies down at arms length with powerful blows.

This image is wrong. The sword of Ephesians 6 is not a long sword. It is a short sword, in New Testament Greek "machaira". In Latin it was called the gladius. It was the sword of the empire and it was an intimate weapon. They are meant to be employed in close combat, face to face. A roman legionnaire would come close to his foe, feel their breath, smell their fear, wait for an opening, and thrust his gladius into the other man's heart.

As Christians we have to get over the desire to throw out bible verses left and right, secure in our knowledge that "the word of God never returns void." But really this is just an excuse to minister without knowing people. It allows us to act holy, but really we're just distancing people because we feel threatened. Instead we need to get to know people, become friends, get involved.

We also need to realize that Paul's conception of "the word of God" was probably more than just well placed bible verses. I think we're missing a whole prophetic connotation that was present in the first century church. The word of God is a metaphor for all things we do through God's empowerment. Think Christ as "fulfillment of the law" here. The Word made flesh in John. It is ministering to others and speaking to them in truth. It is constant and consistent prayer. It is the only weapon we have against the darkness.


Innovations in Automobiles

I would love to see a single seat commuter car on the market. The MILA is a step in the right direction, but it's hydrogen powered. Where the heck am I going to get hydrogen? Yes yes electrolyze water very good. But seriously, I want infrastructure. Until then give me a version with a small gasoline engine. That will stop me daydreaming about motorcycles for a little while at least.

A different inventor may have found a way to boost standard engine combustion efficiency. In effect he has a small device that uses the cars electrical power to electrolyze distilled water into hydrogen and oxygen. He then feeds the hydrogen into the intake system to enhance combustion efficiency.

It sounds interesting but it may be hokum. The writer of the article seems to have very little science and engineering experience. For instance:
Most internal combustion engines operate at about 35 per cent efficiency. This means that only 35 per cent of the fuel is fully burned. The rest either turns to carbon corroding the engine or goes out the exhaust pipe as greenhouse gases.

The H2N-Gen increases burn efficiency to at least 97 per cent, Williams said. This saves fuel and greatly reduces emissions.
It is my understanding that the reason cars produce so little energy is that even if the combustion process were perfect, you would still be producing large amounts of waste heat. It's the nature of the beast and you can't get around it because of entropy. I'm not sure of the chemical combustion process and what exactly his efficiency numbers mean, but I'm betting these values can only be reached by running the engine on pure snake oil.

The other problems is that all this "reduction of dangerous greenhouse gasses" seems to be omitting CO2, the greenhouse gas. You can't get rid of this one unless you stop burning things for fuel.

Background Images

This is mine. I'm rather proud of it since I took the picture myself. Plus I just like my hipower.

Today one of my coworkers complained about it. She works for a different team in a different division in a... well you get the point. She didn't like seeing a picture of a weapon on my computer screen. Now I work for the Army. I talk about small arms in the hallway with coworkers as part of my job. Lighten up or find work somewhere else.

Why didn't she like it? According to her, she doesn't like guns because she doesn't trust herself with one. She doesn't feel she has the control to refrain from using it.

Now if you aren't into firearms, you should know that this is a common theme among gun control advocates. They don't feel they are responsible enough to own guns so no one should. Let the tyranny of the lowest common denominator commense.

Political Hotness

Ever noticed that Republican women tend to be cuter than Democrats? Neal Boortz has.

To be fair I think there are a lot of cute Democrat women. They are mostly in college. I think one of the major explanations for why a lot of men show up to Democratic political rallies in college is the level of cute girls there. If you were a young man with no attachments and fewer scruples, wouldn't you go to the annual bra-burn-fest celebrating the sexual revolution? Maybe you could get some sexual revolving going after the partydemonstration.


I don't normally eat it, but I stopped off for a McGriddle this morning. Amybear has remarked that my lack of breakfast somehow makes me sluggish in the mornings. Eh. I work for the government, I don't have to be that animated...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Who's Your Cap'n

My pirate name is:

Captain Jack Flint

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. Like the rock flint, you're hard and sharp. But, also like flint, you're easily chipped, and sparky. Arr!
Get your own pirate name from

Influence of the Blogosphere.

Peter Daou, a communications consultant for the Kerry campaign, has written a piece on political power of blogs. It is a good column but not a great one. His thesis point is this:
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.
Alone the blogosphere can't do much. Not enough people read it on a daily basis. However the people who do read are often important and influential. It can form an powerful link between the mainstream media and the political groups.

The end of the article is practically worthless though. He makes horrible mistakes in analyzing the problems of the right and left sides of the 'sphere. Most of this is because he is a far lefty and sees the world through those colored glasses.

He makes the usual far left mistakes about the political nature of the MSM. The MSM is to the right of the leftist activists, but it is still party-line Democrat and to the left of the general population as a whole and far to the left of actual conservatives.

He also mischaracterizes the right side of the blogosphere as stalwart party-liners. Most of the rightosphere is actual libertarian and only supports Bush as the lesser of two evils. He also seems to think the right wing is made up of stupid sheep held together by party loyalty and a ruled with an iron fist. We aren't. We just happen to look at the facts and come to the same conclusions, much like the left probably does.

Thankfully the leftosphere doesn't seem to get it yet. The way to beat the Republicans is not by moving to the left. That just forces the two wings of the party closer together (lesser of two evils). The way to beat the right is to move to the right. Champion fiscal responsibility and defend the common man from encroaching government power. In short, be like Bill Clinton without the blowjobs.

Via Josh Claybourn at In the Agora

Debt Free

Messy Christian is making that her goal. She has been reading Dave Ramsey and thinks she get her debt knocked out by the middle of next year.

In a somewhat related post, John is discussing poverty over at Locusts and Honey.
So I think that conservatives are right that many of the poor dig themselves in deeper. But conservatives tend to take a moralistic stance towards poverty that radically underestimates how much cultural context determines our ability to make good decisions.
Essentially, us folks in the middle class have been taught to make good decisions by our parents. Members of the lower classes often don't have that example and upbringing. It is a lot easier to make sound decisions when you were taught to make sound decisions in the first place.

My thoughts on debt? There seems to be three kinds: Manageable, Bad, and Worse.

Worse debt is high interest debt on depreciating assets. This is most credit card debt and would also cover other forms of short term loans like "pay day" loans. This is the one you never want to get into in the first place. You have quickly mounting debt on items that are steadily losing value. With debt like this, you can easily get "behind" and owe more than you are worth. You should try to avoid this debt at all costs. If you end up with too much of this, then try consolidating your debt at a lower interest rate.

Bad debt is low interest debt on depreciating assets. Car loans fit into this category. You should try to avoid this for of debt, but it may be unavoidable depending on your savings and the state of your finances. You can end up behind on this debt as well, so be careful and don't take out more than you can afford. If you have to get in this debt, pay it off as soon as possible. Try to avoid it entirely with savings.

Manageable debt is low interest debt on appreciating assets. This is essentially debt on an investment. A mortgage is this form of debt. While it's good to pay it off quickly, this debt isn't that bad. You aren't continually losing value. Even making minimum payments will get you ahead of the game. Just don't bite off more than you can chew.


Today do be International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Avast me hearties, doing this really shivers me timbers. Arrr...

Ahoy! ASV do be talkin' like a pirate, same as me. She also be linkin' to pirate translators and pirate lingo sites for those land lubbers who do be pirate impaired.

Project PorkBust

I have real problems with the President sometimes. One of the major ones is that he spends a lot of money he doesn't have. The federal governments finances are really screwed up. One way to get them back on track is to cut some of the pork out of the federal government. Bloggers are taking the lead on this and proposing where pork can be cut by State and Congressional District.

This is a good thing. A very good thing. Now I need to figure out what can be cut in Delaware.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Airsoft is the Answer

I was late to the range. I took the long way there and stopped to buy goodies. I pulled into the lot and it was already 2:35. Five minutes late. But I really really wanted to shoot something. Thankfully, I had a last resort before I was forced to shoot up a strip mall.

I dug out my Crosman P99 airsoft gun and target from my closet. I haven't shot it for over a year, but it's just a lump of plastic with a few springs, nothing to go bad or break. It is a great buy. A lot of the reputable airsoft pistols are. I highly recommend them for cheap trigger time. I put 100 rounds of plastic .12 gram 6mm BBs down "range" in the comfort of my living room.

My urge to shoot something subsided until I started watching the Emmys.

Incidentally, there are three kinds of airsoft guns: electric, spring, and gas.

Mine is a spring pistol. There are also good spring shotguns and spring sniper rifles along with a lot of cheap crap out there. The bad part about spring guns is that you have to cock it before each shot. The spring that shoots the BB is about as strong as the hammer or striker spring on a pistol, so it is like working a pistol slide 100 times. That part isn't so fun but it is cheap. The gun costs very little, often around $20-30. Shooting those hundred rounds cost me nothing more than the price of the gun.

Gas guns run on "green gas". It is compressed air with a some additional lubricants. You don't have to cock them which is nice, but you do have to pay for the gas. They're still cheaper to shoot than a .22, but definitely not as cheap as a spring gun. Plus they usually cost a fair bit of money to start with. Not as much as a real gun, but still a non-negligible amount. Most of the good pistols are gas guns.

Electric runs the gamut. Some of the very cheap guns are electric. These usually look like superdeformed versions of normal rifles. They're crap. However the more expensive automatic electric guns (AEGs) are very good. They are also very expensive. You can buy a real gun for what you spend on one of these. And in the end it's still just a menacing looking BB gun.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Roleplaying No Nos

This Top 200 list is hilarious although you may need to be an RPG nerd to understand a few of them. Here is taste:
9. My monk's lips must be in sync.
28. The Goddess' of Marriage chosen weapon is not the whip.
30. I am not to kill off all the vampires in the LARP, even if they are terminally stupid.
92. The name of the weapon shop is not "Bloodbath and Beyond"
97. My one wish cannot be 'I wish everything on this piece of paper was true'
185. My bard does not need roadies for a dungeon crawl.
Those are some of the less obscure ones.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Razor Sharp

Gillette has a new five bladed razor coming out. I use their Mach 3 and it's pretty good. But 5 blades? Well if it keeps me from chewing my neck to shreds...

Before I even think about switching I want to know how much more this thing is going to cost. Mach3 blades are practically highway robbery as it is.

Commuting Annoyances

Why is it that traffic reports in my area seem to relish in using traffic sounds in their backgrounds? It is really annoying me. I drive to work. Bitsy on traffic comes on. Now my radio is just brakes and honking and it's in stereo coming from various positions in my car.

It trips all my emergency alarms. Is that car honking at me? I didn't think anybody was over there. It takes me a few seconds of full on freak out to get my bearings and realize what is going on.

I have the occasional problem with music in the car too. Once in a while a song will have some percussion noise that sounds like an ominous clunk. My ears perk up and I turn off the music. Clunking/whistling/whatever disappears. Ah. Stupid techno.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Biblical Law

Lawyer and Tv personality Catherine Cryer is hopping mad about the Republican who have "conquered congress and the presidency". The reason?
Most of them would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, all of which live by Sharia (the strict Islamic code of the Koran), America's right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution.
What the hell is Biblical Law? Certainly not a strick enforcement of Mosiac Law ala Sharia. I don't know any Christians who want to keep Kosher. I don't know any who want to start applying stonings left and right either. About all we would like to be able to do is swear allegiance to our Nation by our God. Being allowed to judge morality for ourselves instead of having it indoctrinated by our government might be nice too.

It is all scare tactics. You cannot equate Islam, which has a long tradition of theocracy starting with Mohammed himself, with Christianity, which has a long tradition of endorsing secular government starting with Jesus Christ himself. Paul had a lot of good things to say about government in Romans. With only a few exceptions, Christianity has a long history of secular government. Yes there were state churches, but these were as much about the church running the state as they were about the state running the church.

Pizza Couch

I don't think dominoes Pizza Couch would fit in my apartment, which is good, because I might never leave. I wish I could have afforded one in college though, even if it is X-BOX instead of PS2.

The thing was built by Mythbuster's Jamie Hyneman. His company, M5 Industries, has a lot of cool gadgets to look at.

Google Hacks

Evangelical Outpost has a few good google maps hacks this week. Take this one:
With shovel in hand, your daughter heads into the the backyard to, as she says, "dig her way to China." You think its a terrible idea. After all, what if she ends up coming out somewhere else, like the Indian Ocean. The water would leak back through the hole and make a complete mess of your lawn.
The answer is to go go to this website, which will plot the relevant exit hole. I believe most of the US ends up somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

Are you interested in keeping up with the Joneses? Well you would need to quantify that with property and income levels wouldn't you? Someone has tied Google Maps to the 2000 Census and Housing data to do just that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

They Sure Hate US

Those Iraqis, they just want to kill us all. Yup. Or not.

New Orleans Rhapsody

If you are annoyed with the political BS surrounding Katrina this might be the song for you. Writing a parody song supporting Bush based on Bohemian Rhapsody just seems wrong to me. Perhaps another band who's name wasn't an obvious gay reference might have been a better choice? Eh. It's funny.

The New Feudalism

Venezuela is going the way of Zimbabwe. Chavez is actively destroying private property and effectively running foreign investors out of the country.

Over 300 ranches have been taken over by the state. They have been broken up into 37 acre parcels and then redistributed to others. Who owns these parcels?
Mr. Pimentel, who is charged with doling out the confiscated land parcels in his territory, is greeted everywhere by men in beat-up cowboy hats and worn clothes, all seeking pieces of land.

He argued that the huge land holdings do not legally belong to the families that work them, but were taken illegally in the 1930s—in one case as far back as the 19th century. The land, he says, belongs to the nation, and thus to the people.
The state owns the land. Those given parcels to work are merely tenants. Some would call this socialism, but in effect it is a new feudalism. The state is king, the bureaucrats are petty lords, and the farmers merely modern serfs. When many of them fail to manage their farm properly, they will lose their land in the next series of reforms.

Even those who receive parcels will have a hard time of it. 37 acres is more than enough land to subsistence farm. It is even enough land to grow high commodity niche crops upon, like organic foods. But when you discuss modern farming practices used for mass farming production, you aren't talking about parcels of 37 acres. By going that small you have destroyed the economy of scale. Maybe they can get some of that economy back by sharing resources among parcels. I doubt it will be enough to bring it up to previous levels when those parcels collectivised by being owned by the same guy.

Chavez next initiative is to sieze underutilized factories. Many of which are underutilized or vacant for good economic reasons. I predict disaster here too.

As much as I dislike Pat Robertson and what he said, sometimes I wonder if he wasn't right. A lot of people will die because of this.

Problems in Emergency Management

QandO has compiled a list of FEMA criticisms. Some of these criticisms are legitimate, but others really don't work for me. For instance:
The agency dispatched only 7 of its 28 urban search and rescue teams to the area before the storm hit and sent no workers at all into New Orleans until after the hurricane passed on Monday, Aug. 29.
You don't move resources into an area about to be devastated. You move them in afterwards. Otherwise the storm knocks them out and you just make the problem bigger.

The problem is that this storm took out infrastructure on a massive scale. Moving them in afterwards was slow going. Not just transportation, which is important to consider, but other forms as well. I'm willing to bet that the inability to get gas and other fuels in the crisis area was a huge impediment. I'm willing to bet that this is part of FEMAs reasoning for turning away help. There is no point to moving helicopters in if you can't fuel them. I'm also willing to bet FEMA's planning didn't account for this sort of catastrophic damage, which is their fault.

I have a healthy skepticism about some of the other criticism . For instance it was my understanding that many of the airports had essentially hit maximum operational capacity. Sure they had lots of people waiting for planes, but you can only fly so many planes and helicopters into and out of an airport safely. With the current death toll only in the hundreds, a medivac C-130 would have elevated that significantly.

A lot of state and local governments have based their disaster planning on FEMA showing up and taking the problem off their hands. Now the locals and states are actually doing the proper planning themselves, like they should have done in the first place. Still, FEMA should have done better. I think the blame resides most heavily with the states, compare Louisiana to Mississippi and you will see what I mean. But FEMA deserves some too and there is more than enough blame to go around.

It seems like local authorities have learned "don't count on FEMA" from this storm and FEMA has learned "don't count on the locals". Good.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Romans, It Fits.

Which book of the Bible are you?

You Are Romans

Brought to you by Quizilla via BHT

Rebuilding Nawlins

There is a widespread consensus that New Orlean, while a great city, probably should be rebuilt better. It must be rebuilt. It is one of the largest and most important ports in the country. Nor is the area a one-trick pony, it is not only a shipping center but also home to massive oil refineries distilling crucial northern gulf crude. Rebuilding is not optional, it is imperitive. But we must do it right.

Gerry Phelps, a good Texan, says to look towards Galveston. A Class 4 hurricane there did similar damage and caused similar death over a century ago. The solution was to raise the grade of the island between four and seven feet using fill materials like dredged undersea sand. It has proven to be a stable fix.

Donald Sensing looks at more infrastructure based proposals. Bruce Babbit suggests rebuilding New Orleans on an artificial island above the marshes.

I think it may also be possible to build the city where it was, but in such a way to compartmentalize flooding and facilitate transportation. Build elevated roadways. Develop a plan to limit flooding by adding artificial high ground to break up the floodplain and protect vital infrastructure.

In the end we need a master plan for reconstruction. Some are saying that this is too early, but as any student of disaster knows, now is the time. Once people start moving back into the disaster area, the opportunity will be lost.

A Millenium Ago

Amybear and I first started seeing each other on this date in 1999. Or to put it another way, why the heck aren't we married yet? Only 8 months to go.

Science Reporting

Journalism is a lot like the federal government. Instapundit gives one example of this. Science coverage is almost uniformly awful, because the journalists have less of clue than the readers or researchers. Often research is misrepresented in a way that is dangerous and foolhardy. But this par for the course.

Have you ever seen a person happy about a story they were personally involved in? I haven't. Quotes are mangled. Truth is stretched to fit the writer's premise. But somehow when the story isn't about us or something we know about, we assume that the press got it right. At some point I realized this was stupid and I stopped paying attention to them. If they're getting everything I know about wrong, chances are they are getting everything else wrong too, I'm just not informed enough to realize it. This is also why I stopped reading Consumer Reports and switched to consumer review websites instead.

How is this similar to the federal government? Have you ever seen someone who wanted more federal intrusion into their business? Everyone complains about the Fed taking our money and us not seeing a dime. But when it comes to someone else's business, one we know little about, then more regulation is suddenly better. I wish people would just wizen up and shut their traps sometimes and Hollywood is a prime example. Nobody in Hollywood wants the government to get involved in rating the content they produce, yet when it comes to someone else's products they're full of opinions.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Always Remember

So where were you 4 years ago?

I was at a Composite Materials conference at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I had driven there the day before and after breakfast I returned to my hotel room to see the news. I sat in shock. I went down to the conference center lobby. Crowds of people were staring at cable news feeds.

I had to give a presentation on Vacuum Assisted Resin Transfer Molding later that day. I gave it. It was bad, partly because no one was really interested and partly because I spent all my preparation time staring at cable news feeds.

Still, it is nice to know that I'll never have a public speaking experience worse than that one.

UPDATE: Joe Cathey is a bit more specific about what he was doing than I am.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Juggernaut Engineered for Fighting and Fun

Via H.U.B.E.

Shooting Basics: Zeroing Your Rifle

I was talking with a coworker about shooting this past weekend and zeroing my rifle. Because he didn't understand very well I though I would write a little piece about it.

First go to a good shooting center. Some place with a nice stable shooting bench and seats. These are important because you can sit down, put your arm on the bench, and shoot from a well-supported position that is much more innately accurate than shooting offhand. Ommelanden in Newcastle has these facilites, but my last range did not. It removes lot of bad technique (mine) from the equation and leaves only the gun's inherent accuracy behind.

The problem now is an academic one: What range should I zero the gun for? Well this depends on the gun and the job doesn't it? If I were smart I would zero my M1 at 25 meters.

How do I know that 25 meters is a good range? I did my research. You can start with some of the stock tables on ammunition manufacturers websites like Winchester or Remington. Just look up your ammo and they will give you trajectory for bullet rise and fall. Remington also offers some free software that is very useful.

Now some of you may be noticing that I said rise and fall for the bullet. Bullets only fall right? Gravity and such. Well that would be true if the barrel was fired horizontal to the ground, but most guns are sighted so that the barrel actually points upwards ever so slightly. Why? Well here is a picture:

Bullets travel in a parabolic arc (if you neglect wind resistance). So if the barrel is horizontal, where you point the gun is the yellow line and where the bullet strikes is the blue line. They only coincide at one point, the muzzle. After that it just gets worse and worse. You have a gun that is only useful at point blank range. No thank you, I want to be able to reach out and touch someone.

Now if you zero the gun so that the gun and sights are at a slight angle things become more useful. Now the bullet travels the pink path. The gun shoots exactly where you aim at two ranges and for most of its useful flight path it is less than an inch off the mark. An inch doesn't really matter much for most practical purposes.

So I zeroed my gun at 25m and it also happens to be zeroed at 100 yards too. If I wanted to zero it farther out, say 200 yards, I could. Then my bullets would be farther off the point of aim for some parts of the trajectory. That might be the price you have to bear if you are planning to shoot longer distances. I'm not planning to shoot long distances, I have crappy eyesight and the .30 carbine doesn't have the oomph for it anyway.

Losing a Friend

Reverend Ed has lost a friend.
A little over an hour ago, I found out that I had lost a friend. It wasn't a big argument that finished our friendship. It was a heart attack. Frankly, I'm still in shock. I'm typing this as some kind of catharsis -- a way to process all this -- because this really rips at me.
Rev, My prayers go out to you and Kenny's family.

Katrina Logistics

I mentioned them a few days ago, but Jason at Countercolumn has specifics.
How are you going to get troops into the flooded areas? ... Well, last I checked, light infantry doesn't have any boats or rafts in the inventory. In fact, nobody does, except for a few selected engineer units, such as MRBCs. I know of one such company that served in Iraq with us. Great group of soldiers. Except they're in Wisconsin. These boats would have to be trucked in, and would take days to get there at best. (Their prime movers couldn't go much over 50 mph, and even then that's pushing it with a heavy load.)
Go. Be enlightened. Via King of Fools.

Motorcycle Safety

Are they not safe enough for you? What if we add an airbag? Of course we are talking about the Honda Goldwing, a vehicle so stuffed with features it practically rides itself.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Helping Out

Joan lives in Alabama, a lot closer to the disaster area than I do. Reading about what she is doing to help, with everything she is already going through, is humbling to me. I need to do more.

Yesterday I received unexpected money in the mail. It seems paying off my car loan early means the insurance companies owed me some money. I was initially going to use this to buy a new gun. Perhaps I should put it to better getting my tithe at church up to date and paying for reconstruction down South.

Reconstruction. I bet this is the first time someone from Alabama or Mississippi likes the sound of that word.

Be Prepared

Not all of us are good little Boy Scouts, but all of us should take precautions to make sure that we are safe if bad things happen. Joe Cathey has some suggestions that might be a little overboard, but are still a good place to start.

Basic principles go like this:
  1. Be self-reliant. The government will likely come to help, but it may take a while and technically they don't have to. The Supreme Court even made this official a while back. So you need to plan to have what you need.
  2. Plan. A lot. Sun Tsu got this one right, advanced planning gives you an advantage. When bad things happen it is a lot better to have thought about things for hours beforehand than to try to throw something together in minutes on the spot.
  3. Figure out what you need. Double it for safety. Double it again for pure paranoia. Good things to have are food, water (and means to purify it), blankets/sleeping bags/camping gear, a first aid kit, a crank operated short-wave radio, matches/lighters, a good knife, a defensive weapon with ammo, a supply of any prescription drugs you are taking, and something to carry all this crap in if you have to move. If you have a multi-member household, you should have enough of this stuff for everyone. Also when you spread the load across your household, make sure someone doesn't end up with all of something (within reason). Don't give one person both first aid kits or all the lighters.
  4. Have more than you "need". You probably only "need" enough of the above supplies for about a week and you don't "need" more than you can carry. But stuff will break. Food will spoil. The only road into town will get knocked out by the storm. Have extra.
  5. If other people know you are prepared, they will come to take advantage of you. There are several options to handle this. The first is don't tell people of your preparations, then they won't come. The second is to get good at saying "No" and have the ability to back it up (this is what that gun is for). The third is to plan for it and have excess so that you can afford to help others without hurting yourself and your family.
Some people may think that enforcing a "No" with lethal force is a bit extreme. People are not trees, we can't snack on sunlight. We need food, water, clothing, and shelter. In an emergency situation, if anyone tries to take these from you, they are not just stealing property. They are trying to kill you. Act accordingly.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Political Preachers on TV

Kevin at Short Attention Span is taking note of a Cal Thomas column. Here is an especially choice section:
Few would pay attention to political preachers if these ministers did not have access to television and radio. And they would not have TV programs if people did not send them money which, in addition to buying TV time, is used to set most of them up in lifestyles that resemble the “rich young ruler.” Jesus told the ruler to “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22), but many TV preachers seem to expect you to sell what you have and give to them.
Ouch, but right on.

Labor Day Weekend

The Summary

This weekend was a busy one. I went gun shopping and shooting with Amybear (her second time) and my brother. Then we went to my parents for dinner with cousins that were visiting. Sunday morning, Amybear's parent picked us for a family wedding on Long Island. The trip back Monday was fine once we had transitted out of the New York metropolitan area. Traffic was unusually light for a holiday weekend, but this may have been a function of gas prices.

The Details

Shooting with my brother and Amy was nice. My brother hasn't gone shooting since he broke his leg this Spring. He brought his rifles: a .308 Ishapore Enfield and a .32 special Winchester 1894 that was my grandfathers. He shot both, but he concentrated on getting his Enfield dialed in.

Amybear stuck to my Buckmark. She did very well although she didn't realize it at the time. The last time we went out, she shot at five yards. This time we moved back to eight. I offered her my M1 carbine, but it was too intimidating for her.

I put a few rounds through my buckmark as well, then we moved the target back to 25 yards for fun with Sunshine, my M1. I had a hard time getting it to group, then I realized it was because my scope rings were loose. Oops. A trip to the car for a torx driver later and it is grouping quite reliably. Then I dialed the scope in and had some fun.

We went home, picked up my suit for the wedding, washed the blowback out of our hair, changed clothes, and drove to my parents near Philly. We had a nice cook out and I played a bit with my cousins cute kids. Then we played games because that is what my family does when the family gets together.

Sunday was fun. Amy's parents got to see my apartment for the first time. If Amy get the job in Newark, she'll be moving into a place in my complex until we get married. Then we'll both shift to a two-bedroom.

The drive up was dull, Amy slept and I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. When I finished it, I read Roald Dahl's advice on writing in the epilogue. It's good advice.

The wedding was good. It was my first Jewish wedding (Amy has accompanied me to several Christian ceremonies). The bride was beautiful and the ceremony was quick. The synagogue itself seemed to be set up to hold events of this type, they had a bar and a dining room with dance floor on the premises. I suppose with all the bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings it pays to be set up for a party. It was still a culture shock compared to my church and compared to the more laid back nature of my immediate family.

I got to meet most of Amy's father's side of the family, including her great aunt's and uncles. They're good folks and they seemed to approve of Amy adding a Goyim to the family. Amy's uncle Robert doesn't approve, but in the words of Great Uncle Mendi "eh, screw Robert."

Monday we headed home and the dreaded traffic we would have to face never really materialized. We almost killed some people on Long Island, but the LIE is like that. So home again home again.

Job Training

We had mandatory ethics training this morning. Five minutes before the appointed time everyone showed up at the theatre on post. The line for signing in stretched out the door and down the block. At this point the Army could have saved itself a lot of money and time by just watching who cut in line and who walked to the end. The people who wait are ethical, the people who cut are not. Respond accordingly and forget the damn training.

Google Maps Katrina

If you want to see some of the devastation wrought by Katrina for yourself, Google Maps has satellite imagery available. Simple load google maps, type in New Orleans in the search box, and press the red "Katrina" button. You can switch back and forth between Katrina and Satellite modes for before and after shots.

Marvel Movie Superheros

Amybear noticed that Captain America is one of the new movies coming out of the Marvel universe. As many as ten new movies are being made. I'd say lets hope there are more movies like Spiderman and less like the Punisher, but one of the films is Punisher II.

I have some Cap books at home, along with a few years of Iron Man from my youth. Both are capable of being great characters, but neither one has been written particularly well in the past few years. I bought a year of the Marvel Knights Captain America trade paperbacks. They were very well drawn but mediocrely written. Chuck Austen even co-wrote some of them. Shudder.

I think there is a good story to be told with Cap, especially if they do it right and make the first movie a WWII film that ends with him getting frozen. They could start the Avengers movie with him being thawed out by Iron Man and the rest.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Happened?

Messy Christian is looking at what has happened in New Orleans and is asking the question: "Is it bad governance or human nature?"

My answer? Yes.

New Orleans is not a city of a high moral reputation. Historically, Storyville may have been America's first Red Light district. In more recent times, being the home of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street has left New Orleans with a large substance-abusing population. Most of these people are hooked on alcohol as their substance of choice, but a few others are into harder drugs. Normally this isn't too much of a problem, but when supply lines are cut and the addicts go cold turkey, things go from bad to worse very quickly. Junkies start shooting up hospitals because it is the only place they can find a fix, etc.

So much of what is going on in New Orleans is human nature at its worst. Screw you, I'm in it for me and mine. The strong feeding on the weak. This is unbridled and unchecked human nature and it should scare us because it is within all of us. Geek with a .45 noted that being a decent human being isn't intellectually demanding. It does require a certain amount of restraint and moral fortitude. Some people just don't have that and honestly our society doesn't place a priority on instilling it anymore.

As for the governance, that was a shambles too. The first boots on the ground should have been police and emergency workers from New Orleans itself, they should have taken a strong stand against looting and violence. As Feeble Knees points out, they didn't. Many deserted their posts and others joined into the violence. The best laid plans amount to nothing when you don't have anyone willing to carry them out.

On the upper levels, calling something poor governance is tougher. The group most responsible for reacting to this crisis is the state of Louisiana and they have done a poor poor job. As QandO noted, once this scale of damage is done, getting anything in is a nightmare.

Civil authorities really can't. Transportation systems are shut down. The roads are out, the rivers and waterways are dangerous, the airports are under water. The distribution system needed to get fuel to all this stuff was knocked out by the storm. Even if you could get the boats and whatever else to New Orleans, if you don't have gas to run it, so what? So we need the military, who have the capabilities to overcome all this and still get the job done.

But even they need time, the military can respond to anything anywhere on the planet in four days. The flipside is that they really can't respond to something on the other side of the country in less than three. Most of their deployment time is getting things organized on the ground, so the transport mileage really doesn't matter. And to deploy like that they still need things like airfields, which are in short supply.

So yes it is human nature, it is bad governance, but above all it is just a bad situation. The best laid plans of mice and men are humbled by the laws of physics.

DARPA's Walrus

While the military budget details in this Gizmag article are completely wrong, the actual meat of the article is still very interesting.

One of the oldest axioms in warfare is that the military travels on its stomach. Logistics wins wars. In order to deal with supplying far off lands with large loads of men and materiel, the Army is looking into heavy lifting airships. We are talking about airborne freighters hauling as much as a lift wing of C-130 Hercules. And they can land anywhere there is sufficient room for them to touch down.

My thoughts are mixed. For military purposes, these aircraft will be big and slow and fragile. This is a horrible mix if someone might shoot at you. However, if we need to move lots of equipment somewhere that doesn't have applicable transportation infrastructure, it is a great idea. That place could be Afghanistan or a logging camp in the Pacific Northwest or water-logged New Orleans.


If you want a gun in case social order breaks down, Geek with a .45 is suggesting the Keltec 2000. This is one of the pistol caliber carbines I mentioned in passing here. It costs around $300 and models are made that accept various pistol calibers and magazines. It also folds up for easy storage.

UPDATE: In other SHTF preparation news, Instapundit is linking to this University of Wisconsin water storage advice PDF. One of the important points is that old milk jugs are bad places to store water. Two liter soda bottles are much better. This is because milk jugs almost always contain bacteria that can't be removed from simple household cleaning. Soda bottles don't have this problem.

I can say that this is true from personal experience. As some readers know, one of my weirder hobbies is swordsmanship. One of the most common targets used for cutting practice is old soda and milk bottles filled with water. I built up quite a stash of these over the colder months when you don't want to be outside swinging a sword.

When the weather warmed up, I started using them. The soda bottles were all fine. The milk bottles were not. They were completely disgusting. These were empty bottles that had been rinsed clean, screwed shut, and stored together in the corner of my apartment. It may take a while for the milk jugs to get nasty, but they will. Don't store water you intend to use for hygenic purposes in them. If you need water to keep the toilet flushing, so be it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Doin' What We Can

My small group was last night. Concerns about hurricane damage was on everyone's lips. We all felt so frustrated, like we wished we could do something, but what was there we could do other than write checks?

We've been doing a short bible study series on prayer. Considering the events of the last few weeks, we opted to skip out of the study and just concentrate on the application. So we prayed for each other and then spent a long time in prayer for the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast. We felt it was important not just to pray for the deliverance of those people, but also to thank the Lord for everyone who was able to evacuate.

We know God has a plan in motion here. Perhaps he is seeking to humble us as we look at the awesome power of nature. Perhaps he is seeking to demonstrate the baser nature of humanity we also need deliverance from. I don't know, but I pray that all of this will not be in vain.

Eat Steak, Eat Steak...

Amybear and I hit Boston Market for dinner last night. I had my usual dark meat chicken and Amy went for the 5 oz. sirloin featured in their current series of advertisements. My chicken was good but her steak was badly cooked. It was very greasy and parts of it were just plain rare. She wasn't happy. So use your discretion, but avoiding the sirloin might be a good idea.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Guns

John posted this:
I need to buy a gun and to learn how to use it.

Anarchy is a heartbeat away from civilization.
Yup. For gun nuts like me this is not a surprise. Go on any firearms forum and you will see discussions about what happens when shit hits the fan (SHTF). To some extent these sorts of things are just paranoid navel contemplation, however the LA Riots or post-Katrina New Orleans show that they can happen.

If you are worried and want a gun in your house here are my suggestions:
  • Don't buy a handgun.
  • Don't buy a hunting rifle.
  • Pump shotguns are good choices.
  • Intermediate caliber rifles are also good choices.
  • Pistol calibers carbines are great.
But Jeff, don't you own handguns? Sure I do, but I also train with them on a regular basis. Do you plan on doing that?

In many ways, handguns are the crappiest guns ever. They require complex motor skills that must be regularly refreshed through training. If you don't shoot regularly you will be a horrible shot. (This explains why cops can't shoot very well, they only train once a year.) They are also the weakest weapons in the world o' firepower. A handgun is what you use to shoot your way to something better. Their only advantage is portability. Practice ammo tends to be cheap, but you should load more expensive hollowpoints (and test them for reliability) when you intend to stop people instead of paper. But yes, pistols are better than throwing rocks.

Hunting rifles have lots of power right? Yes, but in some ways too much. With these you are generally talking about more power than you need with less capacity than you want. Typical hunting rifles are bolt guns in larger rifle rounds like .30-06, .270, or .308. Bolt actions tend to be slow although accurate and powerful at range. But are you really going to be shooting people at over a hundred yards? Not likely. Lever guns are faster with shorter range and are probably a better choice than bolts. Some hunting calibers, like .30-30, are also ridiculously expensive because the typical hunter only fires a few rounds a year. You want a reasonable supply of ammo, at least a hundred rounds, so cheaper is better.

Pump shotguns are cheap, but not in the "shoddy" sense. Shotguns require some training, mostly because you need to learn to handle the recoil. The training itself can be pretty fun. Go skeet or trap shooting. Trust me, you'll love it. Get a model with a long barrel for hunting and fun, and a short riot barrel for menacing two-legged animals alone or in groups. Make sure the short barrel is not rifled for slugs, that will ruin its pattern with shot. Buckshot and Slugs (the people stoppers) can be expensive but a little goes a long way. My Mossberg 590 fits this bill. The Maverick 88 is the bargain model made by the same company if money is tight.

Intermediate rifles could be expensive like the AR, cheaper like the AK47, or very inexpensive like the SKS. The AR-15 is one of the best guns in this class and widely available, but it is also expensive. Those on a budget can purchase a surplus SKS for between $100 and $200. It takes 7.62x39mm, which is the same round as the AK47 and the ammo is insanely cheap because the Russians export tons of it. The SKS is reliable and somewhat modifiable. They require a little training, but not that much. The only disadvantage for this class of weapons is that some states like California won't let you have them.

In WWII, the Army realized that pistols suck and big rifles are unnecessary for most jobs. Does that sound familiar to my advice? It should. Their answer was the M1 carbine. I own one of these too. Similar pistol caliber carbines have also been made by Ruger, Marlin, Keltec, and others. Marlin, Winchester, and Rossi also make pistol caliber lever actions which will fit the bill at lower cost. None of these guns are evil or black, but this means they also aren't heavily regulated. They have very little recoil, point naturally, and pack a bigger punch than a standard pistol because they have longer barrels. Their ammunition (and even their magazines) may be interchangeable with your pistols.

So there you go. Buy a good shotgun or a good little rifle and learn to shoot it. Keep an emergency supply of ammo at the house. Lock the thing up properly so your kids can't get at it. If you want to spend more money buy another good shotgun or a good little rifle for your wife. Be careful these these things get addictive.

Gasoline Budgets

I was overhearing conversation about how people are reworking their finances as gas prices have increased. Now I've made the point that prices aren't too bad. In historical terms, gas prices are about normal compared to how depressed they were in the 1990s.

Still, prices have gone up sharply as a result of Katrina and will keep going up until the refineries and oil platforms along the gulf coast are brought back online. So we aren't talking about normal oil prices in the short run, we are dealing with an artificial scarcity.

Since I work with a bunch of analysts this got us talking over lunch. At what point does the increase in gas prices really hit home for us? Well this is my story.

My regular commute to work, including driving to lunch, costs me about 3 gallons of gas. Probably less, but lets be worst case. I work a compressed schedule so I work approximately 19.5 days in an average month. This means I burn 58.5 gallons of gas a month just getting to work. In all my driving it's around 75 gallons/month. At $2.50/gallon, this means I'm spending $187.50/month on gas. I am fine with that. That is $40 more than my monthly car insurance bill (as a single white male who pays the Fast and Furious tax). It is significantly less than my monthly car payment was (which I had accelerated to the tune of $400/month). I fortuitously paid my car off last month.

Thank you Lord for leading me towards wise fiscal planning.

Now gas prices are going up. I'm now paying $9/day for my commuter gas instead of $7.50/day. That's $225/month or ~$37.50 more. I can still live with it, especially now that I don't have a car payment. I wouldn't be at all surprised if gas topped $4/gallon before the gulf coast gets back on track, then we're looking at $300/month.

The problem is that while these prices are high, they aren't killing me. They aren't even costing me enough money to open up new modes of transportation yet. $9/day or $12/day isn't enough make a commuter train ticket the low cost option. Not where I am. Every 10 cent increase in gas prices costs me $7.50/month and $90/year. That is a goodly chunk of change, but it isn't enough to insure an additional lower cost vehicle (like a motorcycle). Even if we hit $4 gas, $900/year isn't enough to force me to buy a new car.

What I may do is start a carpool with coworkers from Newark. That will drop my gas usage to work which is my major cause of gas consumption. When I buy my next car, I'll look for even more fuel efficiency than I already get. Other than that, I'm sticking with what I'm already doing. I can afford it.