Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wheels: Steam Car Speed Records

The British Steam Car Challenge noticed that the steam powered land speed record of has stood for over a hundred years. It was set at 121.57 mph in January of 1906. The Brits have decided to do something about it.

I considered making some pithy references to steam punk and Queen Victoria here, but honestly I've been thinking about steam cars for a while and not just because Jay Leno owns two. I wonder if examining the old technology would result in new found efficiency.

You see with the internal combustion engines you have a pretty involved system. Fuel and air has to get into the combustion chamber, get burned efficiently, and the results have to get pumped out. Then the process repeats. You have to worry about fuel spray and flame fronts and all sorts of things.

On the other hand with a steam engine, you can decouple the combustion process from the rest of the engine mechanics. Fuel burns efficiently in the boiler to produce pressurized steam (which can be handled in a closed system via condensers so you don't need to regularly add water). The steam is then used to carry that energy to the pistons. Unlike modern gasoline engines, you don't have waste products from combustion you have to expel which means an efficient two-stroke engine is fine. Even better, you can push the pistons both ways (up and down) and use the steam as it's own lubricant for the engines internals. Potentially this could create a very robust and efficient engine.

The problem is weight and start up time. Old steam engines used relatively lightweight, but still heavy, boilers which took a long time to reach operating temperature and pressure. But I think modern boiler design could overcome that. While we haven't been developing steam engines all this time, we have been developing more advanced boiler designs for all sorts of other uses like power plants and heating systems.

So I'm hopeful. Maybe the ecological answer to making power is steam. Wouldn't that be a kick?

God: The Inhumanity of Man

Have you ever heard the old saw that men are the only animals that kill for sport? Animals just kill to eat, but humans kill for fun. This is because we're so evil compared to the rest of creation or something. A month and a half of cat ownership has blown that whole concept out of the water.

We have a minor bug problem. Somehow crickets finagle their way into the apartment. I think we have some foundation cracks or something. BC, before cat, I took care of them by spraying them with insecticide or picking them up in a tissue and crushing their fragile six-legged bodies within my mighty fist. But now we have a cat, so generally one of us just points the cat towards the bug and watches him deal with it. In a way Milo performs an important "man of the house" function for Amy when I'm not home.

Lets just say I grant the insects a much quicker death than the cat. They meet their ends with overwhelming force from a Strong's Concordance or other solid reference work. Or the aforementioned mighty fist. My cat, on the other hand, plays with them until they tire and then he kills them right before he loses interest. On at least one occasion, I've had mercy on a bug Milo had discovered and killed it quick. Milo was very disappointed. In me.

And he doesn't eat these bugs. They do go into his mouth briefly so that he can administer the death bite, but he generally just leaves the carcass on the floor for Amybear to find later. Which she loves doing by the way.

If I hear this whole men are the evilest animals schtick again, I'll just tell that hippy to get a cat. I'm not saying we're good and cats are evil. I'm saying that once again my belief in the sinful screwed-upedness of the universe is confirmed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blogging: Firefox 2.0

Several people in my workplace are browser rebels. We use Firefox instead of the organization standard Netscape. Up until recently this was a major scandal. We were recently told by our IT group that it was fine so long as we performed the regular updates.

Initial reviews seemed positive, so I became our Firefox 2.0 guinea pig. So far so good and I like the automatic spell check. I've used it a few times in this post already and you'd have never known if I hadn't told you. All my bookmarks and settings seem to have ported over from 1.5.0.7 just fine. I'll have to play around with skins sometime when I don't have work to do.

UPDATE: I'm having an awful time getting 2.0 to load blogspot blogs. Not sure why.

Fun: The Corns A-Poppin'

While I don't use the scent to mask any sort of personal aroma, I have gotten a similar reaction to making popcorn at work. I usually bring two bags from home in case I create too much hot-buttered popcorn lust at the office.

Politics: Ouch!

Via Steve Lamp:
It looks like baseball isn't the only thing Detroit is second to St. Louis in. Though maybe that's not such a bad thing in this case.
The morning radio show I listen to out of Baltimore were very happy that B-more had dropped six places on the list and is now out of the top ten. I don't see any Delaware cities on the publicly released parts of the list, which isn't a bad thing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fun: Parkour and Free Running

My brother showed me a video of Russian guys doing a sort of apartment complex gymnastics in some abandoned Russian housing project. It seem the phenomenon is really popular in Europe and YouTube is full of similar videos.

Technically this is "free running" since they're doing tricks. Parkour is dedicated to "efficient movement" so un-needed tricks are out. Most people can't tell the difference of course.

Politics: Refreshing Dialogue from the Left

McQ is right, this Camille Paglia interview at Salon is amazing. I like hearing from Democrats who make sense and she definitely makes sense.

Fun: Don't Mess with the SAS

65 years after they were founded to fight the Nazis, former members of the British Special Air Service are still kicking German ass.
"I saw his boot coming towards my face and I thought: 'No you don't, sunshine.' I grabbed his leg and twisted it until he too was screaming out in agony.

"Then I got to my feet and kicked him in the chest."
The article is a blow-by-blow of this 70 year-old grandfather of three taking the fight out of four German muggers. Man I need to read through my copy of the SAS Self-Defense Handbook again.

For those not in the know, the SAS are the original commandos. The US Delta Force is largely modeled after them.

Via Kim du Toit.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reviews: Stick It to the Proposition

So Amy and I rented two movies this weekend that I'm just getting around to mentioning.

Stick It

Stick It is Bring It On with gymnastics. Except that it lacks most of the talent and racial tension that gave the latter movie its edge. Instead the conflict is between the main character, gymnastics bad girl Haley Graham, and most of the rest of gymnastics world including coaches, judges, and other athletes. The movie generally tells its story from her point of view and criticizes much of professional gymnastics, especially the judges. Whether that criticism is actually warranted, I honestly don't know.

Stick It kind of works and I don't regret renting it. I think it would be a good movie choice for pre-teen children. It is edgy in that suburban pre-teen way totally clean movies can be. I think a lot of adults and older children might get bored.

The Proposition

This is an Austrailian "western" starring Guy Pierce. I'm not going to waste your time with a summary of this movie, because it sucks. There really are no good points that are good enough to make it worth seeing. I like westerns, but I hated this movie.

For what ever reason, nobody makes a good western anymore, except perhaps Tom Selleck and TNT. Probably because westerns have become plodding dramas not action movies (as most of them really were). Filmmakers today don't seem to know how to make an action film without huge fireballs and explosions. Thankfully I can still see good old westerns on cable TV whenever I want.

Family: Health Benefits Meet Mr. Murphy

They're offering new ones at work, most importantly they're finally going to be offering dental and vision benefits which I would certainly use. Unfortunately for me, while discussing this with my coworkers I removed my glasses saying "well these have held up pretty well for me so far" and then they broke. And the new benefits don't start until January even if I did sign up for them. Great...

UPDATE: Well I went back to the Lenscrafters at Christiana Mall where I originally bought my glasses. Unfortunately they don't carry my frames anymore so they couldn't just put a new earpiece on. Fortunately they were able to use a cross between scotch tape and Shrinky Dinks to put my earpiece back on as a temporary fix. It should hold until I can get an eye exam and new glasses.

Politics: Ditto

From Ryan at Jokers to the Right:
The more I thought about it, the Lesson of 1998 kept coming to the forefront of my mind. If Jason and his ilk gain control of Congress in January, then this country will be torn apart by investigation after investigation and trial after trial. Most will turn out like the Clinton impeachment proceedings, politically motivated, damaging to the political enviroment in general, and mostly fruitless. I am sure that many of you remember the Plamegate/Libby thing that turned from anticipation of Dick Cheney on a silver platter- 'Fitzmas," to nothing. Imagine two years of that.

I think the Republicans deserve to lose. They have done nothing to merit my votes, but the Democrats have done everything to make me want to keep them out of power for the next two years.
Yup. I'm not voting Republican because they deserve it. Frankly I don't like anything they've done in the last 2 years. No I'm generally voting Republican because the Democrats haven't show that they have the capacity to do any better. So I'm hoping the Republicans dodge the bullet, but that it doesn't miss by much. Maybe it'll wake the bastards up so they start doing the peoples' business for once.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fun: Coffee Anyone?

You Are an Espresso
At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high

Fun: Fortune Cookie Wisdom

We have a regular cycle of after-church lunch spots on Sundays. This week was the Grand East chinese buffet by Naamans and Foulk. All-you-can-eat sushi, chinese, etc. what's not to like? Anyway this was my fortune:
You will have many friends when you need them.
The writer would have won extra Confuscious points if the back had said "You will have even more friends when they need you."

Guns and Politics: Bans and Crime

Turns out banning guns hasn't changed the homicide rate in Austrailia. Massive abridgement to the fundamental right of self-defense. No effect on crime whatsoever. This is similar to observed effects in the UK where crime has actually gotten worse.

It could be worse. They passed a sweeping gun ban in South Africa a while back. It was successful enough that criminals started killing cops just to take their sidearms.

Of course, the right way to reduce crime is not by trying to regulate the criminals. That obviously doesn't work because criminals don't care about the law. The right way is by allowing the public to defend themselves from criminals with equal and opposite force. But that is dangerous so we'll never see it.

God: Anti-Christians

So Paul suggested Hugh Hefner as a model anti-christian. He spreads sexual immorality and calls it sexual liberation. He does evil and calls it good. He's a good choice, but I had more of a scientist/philosopher. Joe Carter provided an excellent example when I was reading his blog this morning: Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins is an athiest and secular humanist. He is originally an evolutionary theorist and popular scientist who has largely devoted his life to opposing religion and convincing people that religion is something of a mental virus. Of course he does this under the guise of bringing them enlightenment.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

God: Why Only One?

I'm History Channel fan, both because I'm a history nut and because it is a non-pharmaceutical cure to Amybear's occassional bouts of insomnia. While I watched an show on Dracula's castles last night, I didn't catch the one on the Anti-Christ. Paul Smith did though:
In it, historians speculated on past historical figures who had been identified, however incredibly, as the Anti-Christ. Names suggested included Hitler, Mussolini, and Ronald Reagan (!).
I often wonder how useful or accurate "end times" theology is. It seems like there are major differences in points of view (a-, pre-, post-millenial, etc.). Some of the big concepts that have impacted our culture are either vaguely mentioned or created by inferring information from multiple disconnected sources and prophecies. For instance the word Anti-Christ comes from John's letters like here in 1 John 2:18:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.
You'll note that while the Anti-Christ is often referred to as a singular figure John uses the plural. Why does everyone today talk about the anti-christ as if there were only one of them and try to analyze the Bible in the same way. 1 John 2:22 continues his discussion on the subject.
It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.
And in 2 John 1:7...
Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
So we talk about the Anti-Christ figure, but really we're combining aspects of "The Beast" from Revelations along with sections of the book of Daniel. Perhaps that is appropriate, but perhaps not. Oddly enough we're rarely talking about 1st and 2nd John which are the only places the word "antichrist" really shows up in the Bible.

To go back to Paul's point, I also think our conception of evil is biased towards the flashy. Yes Hitler was evil and killed lots of people. But frankly I'm more concerned with John's anti-christs, those slowly eroding the foundation of the Gospel and the difficult truths therein with easy "liberating" lies.

Family Fun: Pet Toys

We've spent some money to coddle our little kitty. He likes some of his more expensive toys like the laser pointer and the turbo scratcher, although he is nowhere near as proficient with the latter as this cat seems to be. Right now his favorite toy by far is a paper bag with a hole cut in it. Followed closely by a ball of aluminum foil, an old broken shoe lace, and Amybears old dirty clothes hamper. Go figure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fun: Nerd Music

I picked up Weird Al's new album "Straight Out of Lynwood." You pay extra because it is dualdisc with additional DVD content on the B-side. Unfortunately that content doesn't have the excellent White and Nerdy video on it. For more nerdy music humor, try Physics Geek's Cats series. I particularly like House and Metal.

On a totally different Nerd topic, putting Shatner on stage at a George Lucas (and therefore Star Wars) event was pretty funny.

Family: Weekend Events

Amybear and I did some shopping and went to the Halloween festivities at People's Plaza on Friday. Amy wanted to see the pet costume contest. I was ok with it because nothing is funnier than a labrador in an afro wig and a '70s print dress. The papillon wearing prison stripes also had a sort of well-read humor to it.

We did dinner at Jose's Border Cafe in Christiana. You know the place with the huge EAT sign on route 7 by the SPCA. It's a tex-mex place with a touch of Louisiana thrown in. The food was ok, but spicy. Other than buffalo wings, neither one of us really does spicy. While the restaurant was really busy (meaning somebody likes eating there), we probably won't be hurrying back.

After we pulled into our parking lot in my car, we noticed that Amybear's Civic had new scrapes and dents on the front bumper and drivers-side fender. And no note from the guilty party of course. We're not happy and Amy is doubly so. I walked around our complex looking for a Van or SUV with her paint on the bumper with no luck. She's been dealing with the insurance company. We've checked to make sure that the car is driveable, and it is, but we can't wait to get ourselves into a house of our own where this kind of thing will become more unlikely.

Amybear decided to distract herself with a new blog project. She'll be catblogging about Milo in additional to anything she does at catster.

Politics: Surprise! Well Not Really

Turns out Teddy Kennedy and several other senators were conspiring with the Soviets in the 1984 elections. This understandably has some people quite irate.

In a more current take on the story, guess which party's staffers have been leaking intelligence documents?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

God: Inquiry for Truth

I have been involved with the Inquiry for Truth lecture series on and off since I was a student. These are lectures at the University of Delaware that discuss Christian topics. This week they'll have a three lecture series on Intelligent Design:
October 24-26, 2006 - Intelligent Design Symposium at the University of Delaware

Tuesday, October 24 - "Introduction to Evolution and Intelligent Design for the Non-Scientific Type," University of Delaware Trabant Center, Newark, DE Multi-purpose Room, Noon to 1 pm

Wednesday, October 25
4 PM “An Engineer Looks at Darwinism and Intelligent Design" University of Delaware Trabant Basement Movie Theatre.

Thursday, October 26
7:30 PM Lecture “What is Truth - Darwinism or Intelligent Design? - University of Delaware Mitchell Hall
Mynym might like that, although I don't know whether he actually reads my blog or not.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fun: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Not Superman!

Well the cat just woke me up for his morning feeding, so I thought I would post this...

The Orionid meteor shower starts tonight and will keep going until Sunday night. You should be able to see it with the naked eye if light pollution is low and you look towards the border of Orion and Gemini. If you need more detail than that, follow the link.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Politics: Silver Linings

What would happen to John McCain if the Democrats regain control of the Senate?
I think I'd just commit suicide.
Well there's always a bright side I guess.

Yes, I'm kidding. But I'm also not a McCain fan. Frankly there aren't many Republicans on the national scene that I am happy about.

Politics: Winning Points with the Soccer Moms

So you're Fred Head, a Democrat running for State Comptroller. What do you pick as your big leading campaign issue? Head chose to campaign against his opponent, Sue Combs, on the basis that she wrote a romance novel in 1990 and is therefore a "pornographer." Unfortunately I'm not kidding.

Via Instapundit.

Fun Gear: Nerf Warfare

Hasbro has come out with a nerf sniper rifle. I'm sure the obvious people will be vocally outraged. I think it's kind of cool. Or it would be if the electric blue and blaze orange didn't give away your position. Or if it had a range of more than 35 feet. 35 feet? Why would you need or want a scope or a bipod at that distance?

I know, I know, it's a kids toy. It's really just supposed to look cool, which it does. But if my office ever breaks out in nerf violence, I'll take a brace of N-strike Mavericks with a couple of nerf speedloaders. Better yet, a nerf pump-action shotgun.

Man, now I'm going to have nerf weapon designs running through my head all day...

UPDATE: On the other hand one of these would work great in the office. Especially if I secured my cube properly.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics: Big Round Numbers

I used to have a Dilbert strip from the '90s where Saint Dogbert explained to everyone that Jesus was returning in 2000 because "God likes big round numbers." Between the recent 300 million people tomfoolery and the Dow hitting 12000 today, I'm getting the feeling that at least the media likes arbitrary big round numbers.

Oh and by the way, the Dow hitting 12k does not mean now is a great time to get into the market. It means that a year ago was a great time to get in the market. Tomorrow might be a great time to get into the market too. All those stock analysts are real happy about the current milestone, but they're also looking at their portfolios wondering if now is a good time to sell. Keep that in mind and don't buy until the decline stops. When it does, I recommend investing in any companies involved with healthcare and helping old people because the Baby Boomers make those into sure bets.

Reviews: Over the Hedge

Amybear has been wanting to see this movie since it came out. For some reason we didn't have an opportunity to catch it in theaters so Amybear rented it the day it came out on DVD.

This is a great movie. The voice talent is excellent. Good lines, good physical comedy, clever script. One of the major villians of the piece is the president of the local Home Owners Association. What's not to like about seeing the local lawn nazi get hers? Nothing, that's what.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fun: Plumbing the Dark Knight's Depths

Somehow I missed this one-off Scott Kurtz Batman comic. His story behind it (and associated comment commentary) are here. Truly he understands the Dark Knight as only he, and Frank Miller, can.

"My Parents Are Dead!" Face!

Guns: Bad Defense Advice

Instapundit linked to this supposedly knowledgeable article by Confederate Yankee. This is the good advice:
There is no "one size fits all" solution for home defense.
This is the bad advice:
While sniffed at by the experts, a .410-bore shotgun loaded with birdshot possesses more close-range stopping power than any popular handgun caliber, with far less danger of overpenetration. It is also much easier to operate and shoot accurately in high-stress situations than any handgun (which required well-practiced fine motor skills). The fact that this particular variant came with a laser-sight made it even more appropriate for these specific customers.
Birdshot is for birds, small fragile flying critters with hollow bones. All you have to do ruin their flight dynamics and the fall will probably kill them. People are not birds.

While it can be deadly at close range, birdshot is a notoriously poor penetrator. Remember when our Vice President "peppered" that old man in the face and neck last year? Happens all the time. At short range birdshot can do more serious damage, but most of it is still superficial. If your attacker is wearing heavy winter clothing, that is additional layers the shot has to go through. Buck shot will generally penetrate the 12 inches you want in a self defense round, bird shot generally will not. Use the one that can hit important organs, not the one that hurts your target but will not incapacitate him.

My post after the hurricane insanity of last year still stands. About the only thing that has changed is that 7.62x39mm has started getting a lot more expensive recently. But I still say a shotgun is a good choice. If a .410 is all your shoulder can handle, then please load it with the biggest buckshot you can. Otherwise move up to 20 or 12 gauge. 00 or 000 buck might be overkill (slugs certainly will be), but #1 buck is a pretty good choice especially in a 12 gauge at short range.

UPDATE: In the comments, Steamboat Willy suggests .38s using standard pressure glaser safety slugs or wadcutters due to overpenetration concerns. Overpenetration is when the bullet either misses or goes through the bad guy and then goes into what is behind him (like your kid's room). This is obviously a bad thing.

The guys at the Box O' Truth have looking into this stuff. When they tested wallboard penetration they found that pistol and rifle rounds generally go through a lot of walls (more than 6 walls), but will have trouble if they actually hit structural members like pine boards and studs. In comparison glaser "safety" slugs and shotgun rounds generally only penetrate 3 walls (6 layers of sheetrock). So you get essentially the same overpenetration problem with the shotgun as with Willy's pistols and, trust me, the shotgun packs much more of a wallop.

Blogging: The Delaware Blogosphere

Hube has an Unabashedly Thorough Guide to the Delaware Blogosphere up over at Colossus. Here is his review of my humble abode:
Politics: Right.
Blog Software: Blogger.
Layout Appeal Grade: B.
Notes: Member of the Delaware Conservative Bloggers Alliance. Jeff's post run a gauntlet of topics, covering local, national and international politics, as well as cultural tidbits and entertainment. Jeff's also a big proponent of the Second Amendment.
Sounds about right.

Any ideas on how I can bring that layout score up?

Reviews: Lucky Number Slevin

Amybear and I picked this movie up over the weekend mostly because I couldn't find anything else interesting at the video store. Gone are the halcyon days of summer when no college students were around to hog the new releases at Blockbuster. This week we joined Hollywood video in hopes that they would be far enough off campus that we could actually find something to watch.

Anyway LNS is a twisty turney catchy crime drama. Sort of like Snatch, but grittier, less British, and less stylized. The plot centers around Josh Hartnett's character getting involved with an assassin played by Bruce Willis and two mob bosses played by Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley. Twists, turns, and dark humor ensues. I can't say too much because I'll give things away. I liked it for the most part and Amy didn't, which is about to be expected for this sort of film.

I think Amybear's renting Over the Hedge today, so we should have a Willis movie of a different sort for our nightly viewing.

Guns: Cleaning after Weekend Shooting

This weekends trip to the range went well. I stuck to pistols after shooting my rifles for the better part of a month. It really put the wimpiness of the handguns in perspective for me. I've gotten used to the bang and crack of a short-barreled AR-15 with a flash hider. Those guns are loud, especially for such a small gun with shooting such a small round. My .22 and 9mm sound like just pop guns in comparison. Which is great because I have a tendency to flinch.

My handgun performance was competent. I'm not an amazing shot, but when I get into my groove I'm capable of putting a multiple rounds into the center rings pretty quickly. I suppose that lack of patience and emphasis on speed over technique is probably part of the reason I'm not a better shot.

Once I got home it was gun cleaning time. Cleaning guns gets almost as much discussion as shooting them in the firearms community, as Geek with a .45 clearly demonstrates. I generally clean my guns by field stripping and using a fair amount of patches, Q-tips (for the nooks and crannies), and lots of CLP. The bore gets cleaned with an appropriately size boresnake using CLP or Rem Oil. I probably should get in the habit of using real bore cleaners instead of just using CLP all the time, but I haven't yet.

The exception is my Buckmark. Since it's a target pistol, field stripping the Buckmark requires tools and is far less fun than guns actually designed as weapons. I just swab it out without taking it apart and then do a more thorough cleaning when it starts to act up on me. It's a rimfire and I feed it cheap (and dirty) ammo, so I expect some reliability problems anyway. It's about due for a detail strip and cleaning soon.

Monday, October 16, 2006

God: Sickness in the Family

A friend of mine, who incidentally suggests a large number of my post topics, needs some prayer. Doctor's have found some spots on his mother's lungs and he is justifiably worried. He lost his Dad about a year ago to cancer and could really use some spiritual and emotional support in this time of need. Let's get on our knees and get to work.

UPDATE: It's just small bits of scar tissue, not cancer. The doctors want to keep an eye on things, but they're definitely out of the woods on this one.

Politics: Jihadi Statistics

People are trying to make waves with the latest flawed Lancet study. Meanwhile Michelle Malkin is asking what the heck is wrong with the people when 10% or more of a national population supports religious violence. She uses Indonesia as an example. I'm going to steal one of her charts shamelessly (actually I hosted it on blogger, it seems Michelle's server is theft proof) though, because it disproves a major lefty meme:


While approval of religious violence is still high in absolute terms, it is generally on the decline. Jordan's approval rate is half of what it was a year ago. Pakistan and Indonesia have dropped to a third of where they were too. Turkey is up, but not by much and possibly not by more than the margin of error. So much for the War on Terror creating more terrorists. If anything it may be showing people that pro-muslim violence isn't working.

UPDATE: QandO is reporting that even anti-war groups like Iraq Body Count are saying that the Lancet study is total crap.

Politics: How Not to Get Answers

The Captain's Journal is complaining that the Marines aren't supporting his blog after they refused to answer some of his questions. This response doesn't surprise me because the question he asked were stupid:
  1. What units will deploy between now and mid-2007?
  2. Will these units be issued the new “Modular Tactical Vest” prior to deployment?
  3. Will there be any units deployed without having been issued the Modular Tactical Vest?
  4. Will any of the units deployed between now and mid-2007 be deployed without having been issued the new helmet padding system in lieu of the webbing or sling suspension? (Editorial note: This last question pertains to a new helmet padding system that will help prevent traumatic and permanent brain injury from IEDs).
Basic Operational Security (OPSEC for short) regulations very obviously cover all of these questions. You are not allowed to discuss specific troop deployments (1). You are not allowed to discuss the equipment of specific units (2, 3, and 4). It may be allowable to answer the third and fourth question with a simple yes or no, but the use of the word "units" implies they want to know which ones. That's not going to happen.

So upon receiving this request for classified materials, the Marines said "who the hell are you again?" At which point the Captain said "a blogger" and the Marines told him where to stick it. Good for them.

Via Instapundit

UPDATE: The original post has been updated since I wrote this. A Light Colonel responded with:
  1. Elements of some very large units, but we aren't giving too much in the way of specifics. Oh and we can't tell you when.
  2. Beats me.
  3. See number two.
  4. Everyone is getting the new helmet liner system and will have it when they deploy (meaning this is not sensitive information).
I'm betting the answers to two and three will look like "yes everyone will have these when the deploy" or "we're getting these to everyone as soon as possible." I'm willing to bet you will not get details, especially if people aren't deploying with the latest equipment.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Reviews: Eragon

I picked up Christopher Paolini's first book, Eragon, a while back and actually finished it a few weeks ago. Eragon got a fair bit of press attention because Paolini started writing it when he was 15 and it was published in the mainstream when he was 19. It isn't a bad book. I've read some bad derivative fantasy over the years, largely thanks to reading stuff too closely related to D&D to be healthy. Bad derivative fantasy. In contrast Eragon is pretty good derivative fantasy.

Eragon is the story of a farm boy who lives in the backwoods of a country ruled by an mad evil Dragon Rider. After finding a mysterious stone on a hunting trip deep into the wilderness, Eragon becomes first new dragon rider in centuries. The book is largely about his coming of age and the many groups who wish to use or kill him.

The main problem is that Eragon is a somewhat original story constructed largely from unoriginal parts. It is as if Paolini read a lot of fantasy and adapt the best parts to his own work. Eragon's world has "true tongue" languaged-based magic just like Le Guin's Earthsea novels. There are the familiar looking dragons, dwarves, and elves from Lord of the Rings and D&D. The dragon riders themselves borrow heavily from McCaffrey's Pern books.

The book itself is enjoyable. The writing isn't amazing, but it is good enough that I stopped paying attention once the story actually got going. I'm sure I'll pick up the sequel, Eldest, once its out on paperback. And frankly fantasy literature is pretty unoriginal stuff these days. When did fantasy come to mean swords, wizards, elves, and dwarves? At some point these things stop being fantastical and just start being cliche.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

God: Making an Ass Out of U and Me

This one has been in my posting queue for a while so it's time to clear it out...

Feeble Knees brought up this thought provoking piece from Totem to Temple. Totem deals with the ministry of Billy Sunday, a former professional athlete and alcoholic turned evangelist, who largely preached from Christ against alcohol and vice. His piece is a bit over the top for me, but he raises a good point: don't assume everyone is going through the same spiritual struggle you are.

I have been leading small group bible studies, mostly men's bible studies, for quite a while now. But one thing that always made me feel awkward was how much I was basing my instruction and lesson plans on myself. Now I wasn't putting myself ahead of Christ or anything like that, but I have found myself planning bible lessons that are more about what is going on in my life than in the group's lives.

Sometimes it works. Especially if your spiritual struggles are attuned to your group's struggles. Maybe most people are having trouble at work or in their prayer lives. Great, everyone is happy. But maybe not. And so instead of equipping those people you are shepherding, you are using them to equip yourself. It is a very easy trap to fall into, especially if your group doesn't give you a lot of feedback about what it needs. I wish there was an easy solution, but like most things in the Christian walk, what is really required is discernment in what you need to do. Being told is easy. Figuring it out is hard, and leadership seems to mean a lot of figuring things out for yourself and hoping you don't screw people up too much before you do.

Family: Aging Like Fine Wine

Having been kept from watching our favorite shows by the baseball playoffs, Amybear and I took to channel surfing last night. Somehow we wound up on this horrible funny mummy movie on Disney or Nick. It was then that I realized I was getting older. Why? I found myself becoming annoyed at the pre-teen protagonist and identifying with his parents. Wow. When did that start happening?

I ended up watching the History channel after Amybear fell asleep and they were discussing the history of spiritous liquors like brandy. It was interesting and had me thinking about picking something up. Of course I don't actually drink much, which means I don't know what I like and liquor hangs around for years. The only liquor I have at home is a bottle of scotch I bought in college. The prospect of having something I hate sitting around for that long makes me nervous. I ran across the product reviews over at Tastings which should give me a place to start.

God & Family: Finding Family

After a lifetime of avoiding parental responsibility for reasons of pure selfishness, Dale Franks will be helping to take care of his wife Christine's granddaughter Lexie for reasons of pure unselfishness. Dale is understandably a bit overwhelmed and is asking any prayers on the subject you wish to offer.

UPDATE: Fixed the link. And by fixed I mean I actually put one in this time...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reviews: Battlestar Galactica

Ok, so I'm a big nerd. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has either met me or read this blog for any length of time. Big Nerd. Me. It should not, therefore, be any surprise that I watch Sci-fi Channel and read that sort of fiction. But it may surprise you that I don't actually think that much of the current Battlestar Galactica.

It isn't because it isn't the original '70s series. Lets face it, the original had it's problems. Like they seem to have about four special effects shots (the fleet flyby, the viper launch, the viper shooting the cylon raider, and a shuttle sequence). So while Katee Sackhoff isn't Dirk Benedict, they aren't playing the same character anyway. Really we're talking two shows with the same names and a somewhat similar concept, but wildly different characterizations and themes. I can just disassociate the two and call it good.

No my problem is that Galactica isn't badly overrated right now. It isn't the greatest thing on TV no matter what Time and Newsweek seem to think. While the show has the sort of overwrought dramatic tone that would earn that sort of acclaim, it also has large continuity problems from episode to episode. And that really doesn't work for me in dramatic sagas. It is one thing if, as in Star Trek, junk science words get all turned around an misused. It is another if two episodes have completely conflicting premises as with first season's Water and second season's Resistance. This isn't to say that the show is meritless. But it's good TV not great TV.

Anyway on a similar theme, Hube has several Galactica posts up over at Colossus. One on the start of the new season and another on thematic differences with the original series. Both are worth reading. Myself, I think the political makeup of the original show owes a lot to the time it was made and proximity to the first and second world wars. The US was largely unprepared for both of them. They even turned the Guns of Navarone into the Pulsar on Ice Station Zero.

Guns: Muzzleloading Magic

I know I said that muzzleloaders stink. And they do. Stink is the natural result of firing a propellant made from 10% sulphur and 75% concentrated crap (also known as "saltpeter").

But there are a few cool things about them. The traditional designs are classics. Metal, wood, and nothing else. A good hawken harkens back to a bygone age. But more importantly, muzzleloaders and black powder arms are considered archaic by the US Government. Which means they are almost completely unregulated. Unlike most other guns, you can still buy a black powder rifle or pistol through the mail like it was 1922. Lack of regulation also means they're cheap. I could by an inexpensive inline for less than a hundred bucks. I could make my own great plains rifle out of a kit for under three hundred.

Man, Amy's going to have to look out if we ever get room for me to put up a workbench.

Wheels: Southern Comfort

It seems that there are a number of small car companies springing up across the US specializing in retro. A hotrod manufacturer turned out brand new '67 Camaro and Firebird unibodies a while back and sold them for a princely sum. Southern Motor Company is doing something similar with old Chevy Trucks. They're essentially building a '50s era Chevy pickup with modern (and largely Ford) underpinnings. Unfortunately, at $55k they're going to be a mite too expensive for most folks.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Politics: Army Slogans

The Army is replacing its current advertising slogan, "An Army of One," with a new one: "Army Strong." Joe Carter, an ex-Marine, thinks that sounds like the Army hired the Incredible Hulk or Captain Caveman to write their ad copy. Ughh. Army Strong!

Can't we just go back to "Be all that you can be" already? I think the general that came up with that one was so proud of it, he had it engraved on his tombstone.

Gun Fun: Replacing Skeet Shooting

Unfortunately, when that DCBA trip to Ommelanden does finally happen, we still won't be able to do this. Alas they don't have a Carl Gustaf anti-tank rifle range there.

By the way, is it just me or is Jeremy Clarkson a really bad shot with that over-under at the start of the clip?

Reviews: Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves

I'm a big fan of the Sly Cooper games. I liked Sly 1 and Sly 2. No surprise that I really liked number 3 as well.

This game has similar gameplay to Sly 2. There are six levels, called "episodes" within the game, each of which has it's own city map. Missions (or "jobs" in Sly thief lingo) are split between ones taking place on the city map and others occurring in separate dedicated mission maps. Many of the minigames from Sly 2 (like various RC vehicles) are back. Sly 3 also has several jobs requiring air-to-air combat in Sly's biplane and strategic ship-to-ship combat on the gang's pirate ship. Both of these are incredibly fun and are worthy of being a game unto themselves. Thankfully the replay modes from Sly 1 are back, so you can start up Sly 3 and just play some air ace or some ship-to-ship combat if you want.

The difference from Sly 2 is in the characters. In Sly 1, you essentially played Sly. In the second game, you played Sly, Murray, and Bentley. In Sly 3, the gang expands to include several more characters and you even get to play Carmelita Fox a few times. This makes for well varied gameplay. If Sly 3 does have a criticism, it is that the game play is now a bit too varied and the game itself risks loosing focus. That and there aren't any bottles to find for secrets, which was a lot of fun in Sly 2. But generally, I really enjoyed the game a lot as you can probably tell.

Family: The Weekend

I had a four day which was largely spent sleeping and catching up on non-blog related things. Carpets were cleaned, bills were paid, junk was organized, video games were played. Amy and I did a little look around at townhouses in the Glasgow area. I went to my dentist. Good stuff. Even the dentist surprisingly enough.

I use Bear-Glasgow Dental and I've been pretty happy with them. They take my insurance, they do good work, and they don't try to make me pay for crazy crap I don't need. My old dentists, Dental Associates of Brandywine, once tried to book me for immediate oral surgery I didn't need when they didn't take my insurance and I had just paid them $500 to have the bondings on my front teeth fixed (they chip regularly). Contrast that my current dentist who threw in a free patch job on one of my front teeth because he didn't think it should have chipped again so soon.

Everyone at Bear Glasgow likes to talk though. Which is kind of weird. I like it. It makes the place feel friendly. My hygenist remembered me from my last visit before the wedding and asked how everything went. I asked her about her neighborhood because she lives close to where Amy and I are looking at houses. My dentist is a relative newlywed too so we talked about that for a bit. He's also jewish so we schmoozed about the High Holy Days.

But at some point it's just ridiculous. How the heck to do you hold a conversation with someone when they have their hands in your mouth? "So Jeff how was your weekend?" "Gooaah!" "That's great!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fun: Scare a Liberal

With Halloween approaching, these t-shirtsmight be useful for people who want to scare their leftward friends and coworkers.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Guns: The Coming Zombie War

Max Brooks, author of the Zombie Survival Guide, has a book out called World War Z about fighting the great Zombie War. It is supposed to be very good and takes the form of oral accounts of the conflict. I had mixed emotions about the Zombie Survival Guide. Much of the weapons analysis was rather weak, but then again I work for the Army.

I took his Zombie survival test and only scored a 27%. I think it's because I live in the suburbs on the east coast and don't have easy access to a boat. I had much better luck with other zombie quizzes. Tamara scored better with 42%.

God: The Reason for the Law

Anna Venger has a great post on the topic of rules, the law, and their purpose. Here is a teaser:
Laws. Rules. Boundaries. There is something in the heart of man that balks at having to obey rules. We feel that we are being confined, restricted. We feel less free. No doubt there are some man-made laws that are intrusive and annoying. Many are outdated and should be repealed, having served their purposes. Yet properly enacted laws are a blessing, providing a more harmonious environment for all of us and in the end bestowing greater liberty and peace of mind upon us.
Go read it all.

The whole concept of rules and freedom comes up a lot. And to explain it, I often trot out the airplane analogy.

People are airplanes. We are supposed to fly. It is what we were made for. But most of us can't. Either we're weighed down by cargo or we don't have enough power to take off. Christ removes that weight and gives us the power we need to fly. Without him we can only taxi about on the ground and live in the shadow of what we are meant to be.

In return for flying we have rules that don't make sense to the airplanes that never leave the ground. The grounded planes don't need to pay attention to airspeed or altitude. They don't really need to worry about weather conditions or anything else. They don't understand the flyers and say that we don't know freedom, we're all about those rules. After all they can drive around on the ground all they want and have much fewer rules to worry about. And our rules don't make any sense to them anyway, because they aren't living the kind of life those rules were meant for.

Anyway, that's my two cents on the subject. Have you read Anna's post yet? Go do that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Fun: Dark Spot Discovered on Uranus

Resulting jokes could be seen coming by people from almost as far away.

UPDATE: There is no word whether Klingons are involved.

Guns: This Weekends Range Report

While Amy was at work this Saturday, I was at play at the range. This time I remembered to bring my targets and my milspec AR-15 zeroing instructions with me. Now Mabel shoots to point of aim at 25 meters. I was shooting groups with all or most of the bullets touching. Now that isn't actually that spectacular at 25 meters, but I'm very happy with it since my rifle skill is weak, I was shooting with irons, and I was shooting bullets that are only a .22 inches wide.

There was some bad of course. As I pulled into the parking lot at Ommelanden, it started to rain. It continued to rain until I started packing my rifle up at which point the sun came out. Go figure. It also seems muzzleloader season is upon us and most of the people at the range were getting their rifles ready. And for those not in the know, muzzleloaders stink. Not in a this-gun-is-bad way. No they actually smell because black powder contains healthy amounts of sulphur. Most people were shooting substitutes, but they still smell like stinkbombs going off. I would be more than willing to put up with this if the individuals in question were firing historic sidelock muzzleloaders like flintlocks or cap-locks. Hell, I'd have stopped shooting and just watched them shoot. Unfortunately everybody had inlines, which just bore me.

Family: Culinary Kryptonite

Amybear and I received a breadmaker as a wedding present and we finally got around to using it last night, four months later. We also got around to using that bread knife in the knife set we received as well. Very tasty.

There are few foods I have trouble resisting, but fresh warm baked goods are tough. I can chow down on dinner rolls and fresh bread like nobody's business and have been this way for as long as I can remember. My mom always made sure I didn't get rolls until I was well into dinner for this reason. If we keep using the breadmaker, my carb intake is going to skyrocket as will my waistline.

Last night, we made a wholewheat honey banana bread. The bread itself turned out well or at least it was warm, fresh, and tasty which is what I like in a bread. We thought it would be more of a flavorful desert bread (like a zucchini bread), but it turned out to be more of the garden variety sort. The banana flavor in particular is a lot more subtle than Amy wanted. Perhaps it's because I added a smidge too much yeast and it rose a bit higher than expected. Or perhaps not. I'm not much of a baker so how should I know?

Family: A Novel Approach to Teen Pregnancy

Michael pointed me to this story. Teenagers are smoking in hopes of dropping their babies birthweights so labor will hurt less. This is wrong on so many levels. Other than the obvious, low birthweight babies don't actually have less painful deliveries. But no one ever accused teenage mothers of being geniuses.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Politics: The Foley Scandal

I have very little sympathy for the Republicans right now. They've made their bed and now they have to lie in it. And they deserve it.

That said I don't think the Democrats are any better. In '83 Massachusetts Representative Gerry Studds was caught doing the exact same thing as Foley. Well not exactly. Studds actually had a prolonged affair with a 17 year-old male page, instead of just being a sicko over email. Studds was censured by the House, which he essentially ignored, and served 5 more terms in office until he retired in 1997.

Compare that to Foley, who has already resigned, or Dan Crane, another Republican Representative implicated in the '83 sex scandal who was defeated for re-election after having sex with a 17 year-old female page.

I'll try to track down a link to sex scandals over the years, but suffice it to say that with Republicans the scandal always destroys their careers. I have yet to find an exception (but one may exist). With Democrats, they often get away with it. So all this righteous indignation from the left really comes off as just so much hypocrisy to me.

UPDATE: Gary Hart was a Democrat who lost his career to a sex scandal. Democrats do still have career-ending sex scandals, but they do not always have them. But for Republicans, at least on the national level, sex scandals always end their career and I have yet to find an exception to that rule.

Guns: Perfect Use of the Word Riddled

After wounding one deputy and killing a canine officer and his dog, the drug dealer (who used many aliases including Eswardo Ramclaim and Angilo Freeland) was shot 68 times (out of 110 rounds fire) by 10 SWAT officers. Why did they use so many bullets?
“That’s all the bullets we had, or we would have shot him more,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
Man, they're not screwing around in Florida. I'm not sure I like the overmatch, but then again he was armed and dangerous and would be just as dead if they had only hit him 10 times. I guess I have no room to complain.

Family: Bugs

So our cat actually did this yesterday, only without talk smack. Pounce! Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Amy is pretty torn about this particular feline behavior. She'd much rather the cat kill the bugs. But she'd rather he didn't eat them afterwards.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reviews: The Ragamuffin Gospel

We're just about finished with Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel in my small group, so I thought I would share my thoughts. To be blunt, it's over-rated. I expected a great book. A life changer. What I actually read was a pretty good book with some obvious issues.

The point of Ragamuffin Gospel is that God loves you despite your flaws. We are all screw-ups. We're ragamuffins. We're squalid beggars in the eyes of God. Yet because God's love is unconditional, he still loves us and he will always love us. So just accept his love. Don't beat yourself up about not being good enough or not doing the right things. God knew how much of a screw up you were when you were saved and he knew what a total screw up you were going to be too. So stop it and embrace the love of God already.

I learned this lesson when I went through a rough spot in college and grad school. I think it has the potential to be a life changer for a lot of people who, like Manning himself, have suffered under false legalistic approaches to righteousness and have issues with their own self worth. If there is anything this book does well, it is hammering repeatedly against those things for chapter after chapter. And often this is a lesson that needs to be hammered on repeatedly, so it works.

But the lesson wasn't new for me and in the end I found the book unbalanced. Ragamuffin is like someone who had a legalistic crisis of faith and so they went in the complete opposite direction: love and freedom. In defeating legalism and legalistic righteousness, Manning generally overcorrects. The right way is the middle way. Love of God informed by the Word including the law. Manning is so busy scathing legalists, that he never discusses the proper Biblical purpose for the law, to inform people of sin and therefore bring about repentence.

In the end I found the Ragamuffin Gospel to be a one trick pony, but it is admittedly a very good trick that some people need to see.

God: Imagine...

John Lennon's Imagine is one of those songs that people think is wonderful, deep, and profound. Yet when you actually analyze the lyrics, it is utter crap. Paul Smith brought some recent Catholic bashing of the song to light.

I was flipping channels a while back and saw a Kathy Griffin standup routine on Bravo. Kathy recalled headlining a charity dinner being run by Sharon Stone. Stone started the night off by getting weepy while reading Imagine in all its profundity. Kathy responded by getting all weepy about Hound Dog by Elvis Presley. Various stars in the audience (among them Rosie O'Donnell) had put her up to it with pledges of large donations to the charity. I guess I was bound to agree with Rosie sometime.

In general Imagine reminds me of a scene in Three Men and a Baby. Tom Selleck is putting the baby to sleep by reading the paper to her. He's not reading the funnies though, he's reading the blow-by-blow account of a boxing match. But he does it in a soft and gentle tone of voice. "You see," he explains, "it's not about what you say, it's all about the tone you use." Oh how I wish that principle was just confined to infants.

Fortunately I like traditional booming organ hymns and guitar rock, so I am immune to Imagine's "charms."

Blogging: A First Time for Everything

Over the weekend a college student emailed me and asked if he could quote me in a paper he's writing. What has the world come to when collegians are asking to use me as a quoted reference in supposedly scholarly work?

My response was that he could, but why would he want to? I'm just some guy with a blog. Even scarier, the quote he was using was actually a comment I left on another blog. So I was just some semi-anonymous blog commenter. Man, there is a weak source of authority.

Since I had actually paraphrased the quote he wanted from somewhere else (and had said so in the comment), I gave him the reference I used instead. Hopefully he'll use that, but it's not my problem if he quotes me.