Thursday, June 29, 2006

Congrats and baby envy

From Mel:

So today I just found out that a friend of mine (and frequent reader of the blog) is on bedrest due to her pregnancy. She's in Hawaii and we don't email much, so I knew she was pregnant, but I didn't know this little snippet.

She's pregnant with twins.

I've known her for 6 years, and her husband longer, so I know how long they've been waiting for these babies. They've been trying to have kids for years but without much luck. So this is a miracle to them and I'm happy to hear she's 5 months along and doing well.

I have such incredible baby envy it's not even funny.

Baby envy: n. the distinct emotion engendered by the sight of any child under 4 or pregnant woman. Manifests as the uncontrollable urge to copulate and ovulate.

Chris finds my baby envy funny in most circumstances, as I get that wistful look and become hornier than all hell. Yes, we've agreed that we need to wait until after the church wedding and after Shai enters Kindergarten, but I want a baby NOW. Fortunately it's the logical, sane side of me that takes my birth control every day.

But anyway, I'm glad my friend and her husband are expecting as they'll make great parents. They're moving back to AZ soon so I look forward to seeing them and the kids.

In the meantime I hope and pray that the pregnancy goes well and these two little guys enter into the world happy and healthy. So congratulations to her and her husband, and all the best wishes.

And for all of you that love baby pictures:


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

Inchoherency encapsulated

From Peggy Noonan:

One can argue about why the Democratic Party no longer seems to have a reason for being. I believe the reason is this: They have achieved what they set out to achieve in 1932, when the modern Democratic Party began. They got what they asked for, achieved what they fought for. They got a big government that offers a wide array of benefits and assistance; they got a powerful federal establishment that collects and dispenses treasure, that assumes societal guidance. They got Social Security and Medicare. They got civil rights (much murky history there, the Southern Democratic lions of the U.S. Senate having retarded the modern civil rights movement from 1940 through 1964; still, by the late ‘60s Democrats came to seem to own the issue, and that hasn’t changed). They got what they stood for. They went on, in the 1970s and ‘80s, to stand for things about which Americans showed they had doubts and ambivalence: abortion, the modernist social agenda. By the time the Democrats ran out that string, they got tagged for the cost of their dreams. Big government is expensive, and the American people didn’t enjoy being forced to pay, through high taxes, for the pleasure of being pushed around.

Also the Democrats, since 1968, hate war. But that’s not really a philosophy. No one likes war, or no one who’s normal. The real difference is between those who think war is bad and must never be fought and those who think it’s bad but sometimes must be fought. The vast majority of voters are in the latter camp.

A second reason the Democratic Party has trouble knowing what it stands for, and thus articulating its purpose, is that it is so spooked by polls, focus groups and past defeats that it’s afraid to take any vivid and differentiating stands, and seeks refuge in the muck of small issues. But small issues are small. And in this case don’t even offer a philosophical pattern. ‘We stand for lower college loan costs and better prescription drug benefits.’ That’s something you’d die on the battlefield for, isn’t it?

In a nutshell really...

Ahhh christ, I can't afford this right now.

So I just talked to my mechanic. The shorts fried three control modules, and some wiring. Worse, they can't find the cause of the shorts; which means they can't confirm if it was water damage which caused the shorts or not.

Which means the insurance company may try and weasel out of paying.

The damage they can find so far is the three control modules, the wiring, and the two stripped seat cables. Total is somewhere around $1200; and I just don't have it right now.

A month from now, it'd be a different story, but I've been on half a paycheck the last two pay periods; and rent and bills are taking up all of this paycheck. I get paid again on the 19th, and we're golden, but why this had to happen right now... damnit.

Not only that, but the car is worth maybe $3500 when all the repairs are done; that includes the AC which I haven't fixed yet and which is going to cost something between $800 and $1400 to fix; and the front shocks, which should be about $450. I'll do the rear brake pads myself for $50.
So $2500 to $3100 in repairs for a $3500 car... and thats assuming the electrical work doesn't run over; which isn't a safe assumption.

Of course with the repairs, and a new set of tires ($400 right there), the car will be in pretty good shape for another couple of years; so effectively we'd be writing off the remaining value of the car in repairs to have a runner.

I've pulled three years of solid transportation out of the car which only cost me about $6k ($6800 with tax license title fees etc...), and has only cost me $800 in repairs and maintenance since (fuel pump, fan clutch, belts and hoses), not including the $1200 stereo and $400 alarm.

So, $9,200 total for almost three years; or about $3100 a year; and to make it run for probably another three years without major repairs we need to spend about another $3500...

Of course that assumes it WILL run for three years without major repairs; which is a major assumption; but not unreasonable given the current condition and repair status. Also, it may still be worth doing the engine swap I was thinking about.

Mel would be perfectly happy with the current car (in a newly repaired condition of course) until we have another kid; which we forsee is at least two years off; so it may be worth that $3500 just for that time.

I bought the car specifically TO BE a project car anyway; I was planning on dumping 15 grand into the car to completely rebuild it as better than an M5. I love to still do that, I'm just not sure it's worth doing anymore.

Also, what about towing, and hauling, and the dog etc... That's why we've been thinking about an SUV in the first place...

So we can spend the $3500, or we can just take that $3500 and go out and buy another car; and sell our current car for parts (probably get about $1500 out of it)

Unfortunately, as I said, this doesn't help our situation right now. Right now, we can't afford to go out and buy another car; we can't really afford to fix the broken car, we can't afford to not have a car, and we certainly can't afford to keep paying for a rental at $40 someodd a day.

Even dropping into a cheaper rental is going to be $25 a day (with taxes etc...), and that car is going to be tiny and uncomfortable... the situation will be livable, but not desireable.

Now, if the insurance company covers this, as they should, it won't be a problem, so that's what we're hoping for; otherwise this is a shitty situation.

Better, if my friend would get off his ass, sell his current overpriced car, and pay me the $4000 he owes me, none of this would be an issue. In fact if he does, then I can fix the car, sell it to him, and still end up with not too much wasted; and a friend with a decent car instead of the shitbox he'd buy for himself.

... but I'm not holding my breath.

I say again, AARGH.

Note: He was not being complementary...

In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve

-- H.L. Mencken

Similar things were said by Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and Winston Churchill

We need many more like him

Jim Baen passed on last night.

He had a stroke a couple weeks ago, and has been in critical condition since, so this wasn't a shock; but he will be greatly missed. He wasn't an old man, or a young one, at jsut about 63; but he had an amazingly full life; perhaps three or four times the actual LIVING a man might expect to do in 63 years.

Baen, along with Tom Doherty, and Les and Judy Lynn Del Rey, basically created modern Sci-Fi publishing; and moved editing forward from Gernsbach and Campbell, through Bova to where it is today. As editors and publishers they've given thousands of authors their starts.

I've met Jim a few times, and I used to talk to him semi-regularly when I was one of the early Barflies (by early I mean I was on there the first day; but I stopped after a while. Too much noise, too little signal. I've been back a few times since but not regularly) he always seemed a great guy to me; though I have nothing but the most casual of personal knowldge or contact with him. To those who've seen him at cons, who've had business dealings with, and even his friends and loved ones (maybe ESPECIALLY his friends and loved ones)... well, Jim was an odd guy...

Of course I LIKE odd guys.

He had a habit of saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the right time. He could be touchy, and prickly, and his moods were highly variable (in fact I believe he was a manic dpressive from what I've seen and heard, but I don't know if it was ever diagnosed). He could be an authors best friend one day and fire him the next; but he usually came around if he liked your work, and if he trusted you. With Jim, two things were absolutely important; your work had to be good, and he had to trust you. Even if he hated your guts, if he trusted you, and your work was good, you were good with Jim. If you screwed him or if he even thought for a second you were fucking with him... well you'd better not do that.

All of this was apparent, even to me... really because of his visibility and impact on the world of SF/F. I didn't know him well personally, but I know so many people who know him etc...

What I know a great deal about however is his professional legacy; which is quite simply unmatched in my eyes.

Jim Baen had an intense personal interest and passion in bringing Science Fiction and Fantasy along, as an art form, as a business; and this sounds weird, but as a societally affecting factor. To my mind, he has done more in that regard than any other publisher.

From 30 years of giving a start to so many great new authors who wouldn't otherwise have a chance; to sponsoring so many wonderful collaborations, so that lesser known authors can get exposure writing with a "name" (and better known authors can write better books -eh Misty); to setting up the most successful regime of electronic publishing of copyrighted works yet devised.

Jim had a simple philosophy. He and his people KNEW what was good, and what wasn't. They bought good books, and didn't worry too much about trends and marketing. Jims thought was always, if it's good, somebody will buy it; so we'll publish it.

A few years ago, Jim, Eric Flint, David Drake, David Weber, and John Ringo (and others, but those were the big movers) had another simple idea: If the people don't know that it's going to be good they might not buy it, so we'll give it away for free, they'll see it IS good, and they'll come back to buy more later.

That simple philosophy is so antithetical to traditional publishing that I can't describe it... AND IT WORKS.

I fully and firmly believe Jim Baen has done more for SF/F than anyone since Ben Bova, or even maybe Campbell. In the process he has also done more for the engineering profession, the military, and libertarians (and other liberty lovers) than most people would ever imagine.

Thanks Jim, you'll be missed.

The quest for company

Men are great. Men as friends are great. Men as husbands are great.

I'm surrounded by men, all of the time. I have older brothers. My father and paternal grandfather are still alive. I'm married to a man. All of my close friends are male.

Enough. I need women.

Ever since I moved back to AZ I have been in search of a social network. I didn't have one in British Columbia, nor did I have time to search one out. I worked full time and had babies, which didn't exactly give me any time to integrate into the community.

Then I moved to a small town in AZ to live with my parents and still didn't have any luck. Yes, they have a tight-knit church community and I chatted with my co-workers, but it's just not the same as friends.

The other day I was trying to explain to John OC why I don't attempt to make the girlfriends or SOs of friends into friends of my own. Acquaintances I do things with and spend time with. Friends hear about my latest emotional breakdown, detailed health problems, and are allowed to drive my car if needed. There is no in between with me.

This is a matter of both personal preference and necessity. I like being close to people and, well, the kind of problems I have are intricate and personal and NOT up for public debate; but the basic reason I don't turn SOs of friends into friends is that I can not stand splitting my loyalties. If people split up (which most of the time they do) I don't want to have to play sides, or watch what I say. I am extremely loyal to my friends and my role in a break up is to comfort my friend, not spend time between the parties. Once any one of them actually marries someone I'll make overtures, but not until them.

In the meantime though I'm surrounded by men, and that needs to change. There are some things which can't be as easily discussed with men, and it would do me some good to have a social circle which does NOT involve Chris at the center. The traditional subject matter of women's circles is their husbands and there are times I just need to bitch WITHOUT hearing about how I could fix things. Women work differently than men, and I have been yearning for a circle of female friends that completely "gets" what's going on with me.

That being said, I have a hard time finding women like me. I am an odd bird. I've been through a lot, I'm really independent, and my interests are widespread and none too deep (as in not obsessive or exclusive). I don't have any real passions besides my family and my writing, and to a certain extent my baking. I don't delve really deeply into my interests like a lot of women, and so interest groups don't really help me at all. I've done a lot of different things, and my world view is definitely singular. I am a Jane of all trades, and nothing is harder to find than a person who is interested in everything. Even mothers' groups don't work, because a lot of the women don't have any interests outside of their families and their children. That's fine, but that doesn't give me a real basis for friendship since a lot of the women involved see parenthood completely differently. Which leads me to the next point...

I can't stand 90% of the women my age.

Yes, the number is that high. I come from an extremely spoiled generation, and live in an upper middle class area. I constantly run into women whose idea of hard times is when their car tire goes flat and a nail breaks.

I wish I was kidding.

Now most of them grow up A BIT when they have kids, and they learn they are not the center of the universe. Unfortunately now their child is, and must be be to EVERYONE ELSE as well. I've been to all of the parks in the area, and all of the stores, I've seen it all over the place. The balance to this of "center of the universe" child is the "be nice" child who never stands up for themselves and never shows any kind of initiative. These come from mothers who learned early in their education that no one is special, and since they aren't their children aren't.

Both types of mothers who produce these children are 90% of the mothers in Scottsdale, and needless to say I don't have anything in common with them either. The single women are just as bad, if not worse; they have no sense of proportion or perspective and have no idea what real problems are.

So that leaves me with very few women in the area I can relate to, and no real way to do it. I've been struggling with that lately, as I have very much wanted a sense of community and a sense of sisterhood.

Chris has decided to go back to the Catholic church, and I decided (separately, oddly enough) that I would like to convert. This isn't a matter of making him happy actually, since I have been wanting to return to Christianity for a while but I haven't been thrilled with the idea of going back to the churches I was raised in. I left for a reason, and that reason has not yet been addressed in any protestant church I know of. So I am going to take the classes and learn about Catholicism, and make my full decision sometime in the short future.

In the meantime it's my hope that within the church I can find the kind of woman I am looking for; the kind of woman like me, who has a broader view of things and the blinders (mostly) stripped off. WOmen with a sense of priorities, proportion, and perspective. If not, I'll be ok. But I still hope these women are out there somewhere in the area because I'd really like to get to know them.


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fit, Finish, and Function

Probably two thirds of all transactions in firearms cover used guns. I get a lot of questions about how to evaluate whether or not to buy a used gun; and valueprice questions aside; it's important to evaluate the mechanical soundness of a weapon before considering a purchase.

These are some simple tests that anyone should do before they buy a gun (new or used), after detail stripping, or while prepping a gun to be used after a period of storage.

Jim March has posted his famous "Revolver Check Out" for the wheelgun side, I thought I'd write somthing up for the semi-auto lovers among us.

The first step is a general inspection. Check the overall appearance of the gun and the finish; the grips/stocks (especially look for cracks around the grip screws), the sights, and the condition of controls, pins, and screws. Push on everything to make sure that everything that should move does so smoothly; and everything that shouldn't move doesn't. Excessive wear, play, or burrs, chewed up screws etc... are all indicators of a mistrteated or un/improperly maintained gun.

If a gun you are looking to buy from a private seller is dirty you can assume they don't care much about the gun, or about selling it for that matter; and they may not have taken care of it. Of course if you know what you are doing, this could also mean you can negotiate a better price for the gun (it's jsut like people who try to sell a dirty unwashed used car full of trash).

If the gun is so dirty that a comprehensive inspection cannot be made; either put it down and walk away, or if you are REALLY intersted, ask the seller to clean it for you (or if he minds you cleaning it yourself). If he won't clean it, or let you clean it, don't walk, RUN away.

Next step, you want to field strip, and carefully inspect the frame, slide, barrel and bore, hard parts (pins, safety, slide stop, hammer, firing pin stop etc...), and springs for cracks, inappropriate burrs, nicks, galling or abrasion, abnormal levels of discoloration (which may indicate detempering - some is normal on some guns, but too much is a problem), fatigue, work hardening, inapropriate finish damage, unexpected carbon or fouling buildup, and excessive corrosion (some very slight corrosion may be acceptable).

Pay careful attention to framerails, holes drilled in the frame, the bore, muzzle crown, and chamber face of the barrel, the breechface of the slide; and anywhere there is a metal to metal impact (like the hammer and firing pin), interference fit, sliding join, pin join, or butt join; like the barrel hood, locking lugs, barrel link or lug etc... as well as any part or location that handles high stress or pressure (which includes all of the above locations).

Use a bright light to highlight any cracks, burrs, or irregularities; and run your fingernal over sharp or broken edges to check for things you might not be able to see properly, or aren't sure of (your fingernail shouldn't snag on smoothe metal).

Use that same bright light, to inspect the chamber and bore. The bore should be clean with no (or minimal) corrosion or pitting, and the rifling lands and grooves should be clean and sharp. The chamber should slo be clean, without excessive pitting, and have a sharpe edge for the case mouth ot headspace on. Danger signals include deep or wide pitting, excessive corrosion, burrs, chips, cracks, galling, and inapropriate discoloration.

Again, if the seller won't let you inspect the gun properly, thank him for his time, and walk away; unless the gun is a difficult to find treasure, or some such... In which case, offer the seller a small deposit and promise to purchase assuming the gun passes your tests. If he still refuses, don't even think of dealing with him.

Assuming the weapon passes inspection, there is the more difficult section to deal with; function testing. For these, even a reasonable seller may balk; especially at a gun show (in fact these testes may not be possible at many gun shows depending on their weapon handling rules). Again I suggest offering the seller a deposit with a promise to purchase conditional on the weapon passing the tests.

The first test, hammer drops, is pretty simple:

1. Empty the weapon
2. Make sure it's really empty
3. Check one more time
4. Lock the slide back on an empty magazine
5. Release the slide and let the weapon return to battery
6. Pull the trigger. If the slide moves more than a barely perceptible amount, you may have lost tension in your recoil spring, or have too much slack in your recoil spring, even if there is enough tension.
7. Point the weapon down, cock the hammer, and see if the slide moves either forward or back more than a barely perceptible amount. If it does, you've probably lost tension as well. The hammer spring/main spring shouldn't be stronger (or that much stronger) than the recoil spring (well, in most guns anyway.

For slide drops, you need a mag full of snap caps, and an empty fired case.

1. Empty the weapon
2. Make sure it's really empty
3. Check one more time
4. Load a snap cap in a known good magazine
5. Slingshot the slide chambering the snap cap and run the hammer drop tests above

At this point the weapon should chamber the cap properly, and return to battery fully, without excessive play. You shouldnt be able to push the weapon out of batterry by pushing on the barrel hood; and it should require significant pressure to do so from the muzzle.

6. Eject the snap cap and make sure the slide locks back
7. reload the snap cap in the mag, and drop the slide using the slide release

Again, the weapon should chamber the cap properly, and return to battery fully, without excessive play.

8. Load the mag completely with snap caps, and repeat tests 5 and 7 for a full magazine each

9. lock the slide back and insert an empty fired case in the chamber. Drop the slide from lock on the round and ensure the extractor engages, and extracts properly.

10. Insert the fired round in the chamber, and gently lower the slide on the round. If the extractor doesnt engage the rim from recoil spring pressure (most won't and shouldn't), then slingshot the slide from there and ensure the extractor engages, and extracts properly. If the enctractor DOES engage, hold the slide off the round and slingshot it running the same test. Unfortunatley, if it does engage, you've probably lost extractor tension.

If your gun will feed empty cases (and if it's been set up and finished well many should, unless they have a very high feed ramp angle), re-run all the tests with empty cases.

At every step, I like to check the muzzle to slide/bushing fit and wobble; and push on the muzzel, and barrel hood checking for any wobble or weak engagement etc... Also checking the trigger, safety function, and magazine functioning in the process. Pushing lightly on the muzzle, or on the muzzel end of the lide, shouldn't result in more than perhaps 1/16th" of movement.

If the gun performs well in these tests, you can be reasonably assured you have a mechanically sound weapon.

I want a standard goddamnit

Since our BMW sedan is getting a little small for our growing family (2 adults, 2 kids, and 1 dog) and it keeps developing new problems, we've been looking for a replacement vehicle. Actually, since Chris is driving to and from work and I'll have preschool to deal with pretty soon we need TWO replacement vehicles, one for each of us.

Keeping in mind there are a couple more kids in the future, and we now have a dog to deal with so a sedan just doesn't cut it. Plus this is Phoenix; having air conditioned groceries in the summer is much more important than the impact of heating groceries in the winter. So I want a hatchback of some sort, whether it be a wagon (temporarily at least) or an SUV. And when I say SUV, I don't mean one of those obscenely expensive sedans with a lift and a tailgate. I mean an actual SUV which can handle being on a dirt road and hauling a standard trailer full of ATVs.

Now I've been driving standard since I was 17. I love standard; I love being fully involved in driving, picking the gear I'm in, and the sheer amount of skill it takes to drive a standard well. Hell, after driving that Chrysler I'm MORE attached to manual transmissions. I spent the entire drive going "shift and accelerate goddamnit!" The manual in the BMW is part of why I love it so much; on top of all that manuevability I have the ability to go up a 10% grade while accelerating because I control when the gears shift. Honestly I don't know how anyone could buy a sports car of any type without a manual transmission to play with, it's just so much more fun.

But preferences aside, there are some things which are just generally better done with a stickshift. Once again the 10% grades are a great example, since the average automatic doesn't shift at the right intervals to make any kind of good time up a steep mountain grade. There are 3 10% grades between here and my parents' house and I drive them 4 times every weekend. The ability to handle mountain passes easily and SAFELY is a top priority for me. The standard gives me more control, more torque, and good slowing and stopping power if I need it. Plus if I get stuck behind the average turtle-disguised-as-an-ore-truck I have both the ability to be in first gear behind it without using the brakes, and the ability to pass very easily once I shift gears. These are all safety issues for me, on top of preferences.

One of the other tasks particularly suited to a manual transmission is towing, for the exact same reason. Control over the amount of power and torque is something the average automatic doesn't offer as well as a standard. More control is always better in towing, and if I get an SUV I want it to be able to tow a reasonable amount.

So Chris and I have been looking at various vehicles for me with these criteria in mind; good to high quality, seats at least 5, room for cargo, reasonable engine and options, and a manual transmission. If you're thinking "good luck" you're right.

To say my options are limited is generous. Most car manufacturers who still offer manuals in the U.S. offer them in the lowest models only, i.e. the bargain models with the small engines. Now a small engine is great, until I run into those aforementioned mountain passes. Then I might as well have an automatic for all the good it does me. Even our beloved BMW only offers manual in the lowest of the models, and not at all in the 7 series. To get a manual BMW you either settle for the low models or buy a really high end sports car, which is completely unrealistic for me to begin with (not for Chris though, who only needs something that seats 2 if I have the family vehicle). Sure I can get a 525iT wagon with a standard transmission, but try finding one. They exist, sure, but they are hard to find.

SUVs are just as bad. Given the proud history of manual transmissions in 4x4s one would assume more would be offered. But they're not. Once again we're talking about the lowest of the models, all 2wd, no options. Most of the SUVs with standards suck (Geo Tracker for example) and have small engines which is NOT good for towing. The only SUV I even partially like that I can still find in manual is the Toyota 4-runner, which is a good truck and acceptable, but not really what I want. Toyota's FJ Cruiser comes in standard in its dedicated 4-wheeler setup, but it's in its first production year and two-door to boot. I'd love a Land Cruiser, or a Range Rover, but finding one that's not automatic in the U.S. is next to impossible.

Notice I say "in the U.S." because these lovely SUV's are sold new with standards everywhere in the world EXCEPT the U.S. Why is that? Given manufacturers and dealers who want to make as much as possible, it probably has to do with market forces. Very few people in the U.S. want the hassle of driving a standard, and since they don't sell dealers won't sell the cars. Everyone wants the ease of an automatic, it seems, except for dedicated 4-wheelers, towers (who still have standards in the heavy 2wd trucks), sports car owners, and me. Which unfortunately leaves me combing through the classifieds in search of that rare creature, the 525iT with a manual, and learning to accept that I may never find it, and may have to accept a vehicle with *shudder* and automatic transmission. It seems everyone else has, and that the era of manual transmissions and fully involved driving are gone.


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Requiscat En Pace - Acidman

Rest in Peace Rob, something you never had in life.

This is the best they can do?

Unfortunately, yesterday we had a sudden torrential downpour, and the resulting water leakage in my car caused some wiring to short out; which caused a small fire (or at least a lot of smoke).

At the moment, the instrument panel, seats, windows, sun roof, door locks, radio etc... are non functional; it seems the amplifier is fried, some of my wiring is burned; all in all the normal stuff you expect with an electrical issue such as described.

The good news is it looks like insurance is going to cover it. The car is at my mechanics (Nathan Babitt of Babbitt Motorwerks - best BMW guy in PHX by far. NEVER go to Chapman for anything but parts or warranty service), and they're sending out an adjuster tomorrow or the next day.

Also, presuming the repair is covered, my rental car is covered as well (oh and one of the great things about Babbitt, he'll either give you a loaner, or cover half the cost of your rental if insurance wont coer it); so rather than do without a car, we got a rental.

Being the size I am, there are certian minimum sizes I need for a vehicle; and the only things they had available above compact right at that minute were a Buick "national dairy products brand" (what in the hell WERE they thinking with that name); and a Chrysler 300.

So I'm driving around in a 300 at the moment. This is the car that won Motor Trends car of the year a couple years back; is consistently on peoples list of top American cars; and is billed as Chryslers best car ever.

There are reasons why I drive a BMW. This is the best they can do? No wonder the American auto industry is bleeding cash faster than MC Hammer and Paris Hilton combined.

So what's wrong with the car? Lets go on to the specifics:

1. No visibility. This car has almsot no rearward visibility, and HUGE blindspots.

2. Creaks and rattles. This car has a total of 2500 miles on it. It was delivered to the rental company less than two months ago. It creaks worse than my 15 year old bimmer.

3. Spongy... everything really. The seats are spongy, the steering is spongy and ridiculously overboosted, the brakes have NO feel at all; they are either very weakly "on", "off" or way too boosted "on". THere is almost no useful pedal modulation. The transmission is spongy too. THeres plenty of power, but it doesnt arrive at the road for at least a full seconds to two seconds after you hit the pedal.

4. Terrible ergonomics. Noting is within reach of anything. Controls are hidden by other controls or the steering wheel. The instruments are low contrast and hard to read. Nothing is at your finger tips. You need to reposition or even take your hand off the wheel to use the turn signal for example. The cruise control is mounted on a weidrd stalk sticking out at a 45 degree angle off the steering column and it gets in the way of flicking on the turn signal. Forget about the seat controls. Oh and why on earth do cars that have auto roll down windows not have auto roll up windows? Again, this is a brand new 2006 top of the line luxury vehicle, and my middle of the line 15 year BMW has that feature.

There is one good thing about the car; it's roomy; but given all the other irritations I wouldnt even say it's all the comfortable.

Seriously, is this the best they can do? This isn't even close to as good as a late 80s mercedes or BMW; yet it costs just as much in inflation adjusted dollars (of xcourse the NEW mercedes and BMWs run about 10-15k more for a similar class of vehicle today).

Cmmparing features alone, the car looks great, and the hemi powered versions certainly have the get up and go; but look at the price to value and price to quality ratios, and things don't seem as good.

Lets compare the top of the line Chrysler, to a brand new 5 series BMW; say a 550i sport, vs. a 300 srt8; both optioned to the same level:

There's a $13,000 price difference between the two($47,000 vs $60,000 msrp), the optioning levels come out very similar; and the 300 has 60 more horsepower, but it's also a bit heavier.

Is that $13,000 worth it? I say it is, because the 550i is going to pretty much stomp the 300 in every other way (well... I think both are odd looking cars, and some my prefer the 300s looks), and have better resale value and reliability in the bargain (though higher maintenance costs).

As to the initial price difference... well if you can pay for a $50,000 car you can pay for a $60,000 car.

Of course this is why once the initial market demand for the Hemi motoroed cars petered out, they sell for far below MSRP (like $7k or $8k below), so that they can compete for the top end of the Camry buying market instead of the bottom end of the BMW buying market.

Overall, I can't see why anyone would choose the Chrysler. You can't even say "buy American" because the Chrysler isn't Chrysler anymore, it's Daimler Chrysler, owned by the same parent company as Mercedes Benz. I suppose this is also why no Chrysler will ever be any better than this car, because if it was it could in theory cannibalize the bottom end of the Mercedes market

But seriously, is this really the best American companies can do? Are the Cadillac STS or STS-V any better? I know the top of the CTS line, is about the same price as the 5 series and the STS is MORE expensive (The CTS is $41k, the cts-v is $53k, both less than the 5, but smaller vehicles. The STS is more expensive at $67,000 loaded up, and the STS-V is $78k compared to the M5 at $80k - or 90k fully optioned. The STS is more of a 7 series competitor anyway), so even that slight advantage is negated. Is there really any reason to buy an American passenger sedan anymore?

Honestly, I just can't see why anyone would; over the comparable BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or Lexus.

I love lileks, but he really has no idea just how many...

Look, I’m a broadminded fellow, but if your sexual fantasies revolve around being handcuffed and helpless while Catwoman walks around you snapping a whip and telling you you’re a very bad boy, you are not exactly in balance with the universe.

--James Lileks

'Course I'm not on that end of the spectrum; but many folks would be amazed just how many of their friends and neighbors ARE.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Never Again

Over the week of July 4th, the United Nations will convene a conference on "the international trafficking and trade in small arms"; which is essentially shorthand for U.N. gun control.

For some time now the U.N. has promulgated treaties which would effectively ban private firearms ownership in signatory states. They have also attempted (thus far unsuccessfully) to add such provisions to their charter, and the universal declaration of human rights; which all U.N members are required to be signatory to.

The various gun rights organizations in this country (and to a lesser extent around the world), are making a very big public relations deal about this; and they have been for quite some time (since the 1970s in fact, but especially since Wayne LaPierre became president of the NRA. He's even written a book on the subject which a kind reader is sending me to review). Conversely the statist media around the world are using these groups opposition, and sometimes seemingly paranoid rantings (believe me there are just as many whack jobs on our side as on theirs) of these groups supporters as their own public relations bonanza.

Which, in the U.S., is all this is; public relations.

The bald fact is that the U.N.; and the various NGO's who support this initiative; have the stated and trumpeted goal of banning all private firearm ownership. This is not even an open question, it is their stated goal. It may not be their short term goal for today; but it is what they want in the long term, and universally; and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

So what.

No treaty may take precedence over the U.S. constitution. It' written right into the document itself; the constitution is the supreme law of this land. The constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms (note: it does not GRANT that right, it recognizes and protects the pre-existing right). This is incontrovertible.

We in America are safe from the U.N. and other NGOs manipulations in this matter; until such time as our constitution is amended; or forcibly ignored (but that's another topic entirely). The rest of the bleating from the NRA and other organizations is essentially fundraising, and consciousness raising. They are using this issue to alarm folks who might otherwise not be paying attention (and god knows there are millions of gun owners who don't); into understanding that there are organized, well funded, and even extranational (or transnational) efforts to abrogate their rights.

That part of the effort, or at least that purpose attached to it, I applaud greatly; but screaming "The UN is going to take your guns" to Americans is both untrue, and crass.

This is not to say that the UN's efforts in this regard should not be opposed; they should; and not simply because the U.N. is a corrupt, criminal, and fundamentally unsound organization (though that is a sufficient reason, it isn't the only one).

This reason alone is both sufficient, and necessary: The only effective long term tool to combat genocide and democide, is an armed and educated populace.

Please note it takes both components.

An educated unarmed population will still be slaughtered by those intent on enforcing their will on them; or in effecting their destruction.

An armed, uneducated population, is nothing more than a tool for a dictator to effect such genocide and democide.

Some would cry "but what can private individuals do against an army, or a government?".

Let me tell you right now, it is amazing what an armed and educated population can do; even when their arms are limited, scrounged, and inferior; and their numbers seemingly too small to matter.

I could give you many examples, but I believe one is sufficient: our nation was founded by such men.

Even when victory is remote, one can choose to fight; fight for the chance to be free; and choose to be free in fighting rather than to be a slave, or to be slaughtered.

In 1943, no more than 200 Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian Jews held two divisions of NAZIs at bay for two months, using only captured and scrounged weapons; with which they had no training or experience (before the fighting ended another 750 men joined them). None of these men were soldiers, they were tailors, and scholars, and jewelers... but they had intelligence, and a will to survive.

Yes, they were eventually slaughtered; as the NAZIs did to so many others; but they died defending themselves and their families.. or what was left of their families. They were not simply mown under like wheat.

Even if one cannot prevail; it is sometimes better to fight and die, than to be led to the slaughter.

They had a choice, and they fought, and they were free for at least a time. They chose death fighting, over being slaughtered like cattle, or made to be slaves in the concentration camps.

In 72 AD another group of Jews; this one perhaps 1000 strong, but 2/3 of them women and children; made a similar choice. They withdrew themselves to the fortress at Masada, where they were besieged by perhaps 10,000 Romans. For two years they held the Romans at bay; but they received no support from their disarmed brethren; who were content to live under the heel of Rome.

Without outside assistance, they did not have the arms sufficient to resist the Romans; but rather than be enslaved or executed by them, thy chose to die; poisoning each other, and slitting each others throats.
"Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice...We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom."

-- Elazar ben Yair, Patriarch of Masada
An armed man need not choose to die at the hand of his persecutors; he may fight them, and he may win; he may fight them, and he may die; or he may be overwhelmed by them, and he may take his own life; but an armed man has a choice.

Leonidas held the pass at Thermopylae with 300 spartans, (along with 700 thespians, and 400 thebans); against many thousands (anywhere from 800,000 to several million) of Persians under Xerxes. He knew the battle was lost, but he would not submit. When Xerxes petitioned the Spartans to lay down their arms, and they would be spared; Leonidas responded "ΜOΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ"... "Come and take them!"

They made their choices to die fighting, to die free. The unarmed man has no choice but to submit.

An unarmed populace, with an enemy bent on their genocide: Germany, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania Serbia, Bosnia, Armenia, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Kurdistan, Cambodia...

Hundreds of Millions dead in the 20th century alone... HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS

The U.N. must be stopped in this; if for no other reason than to prevent these horrible things from happening once more.

Never Again

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Welcome to DixieChickistan

What to feed them, part II - .45acp

A reader on "The Other Side of Kim" asked: "I jsut bought an H&K USP .45. What ammo would be best for it".

Well thats a relatively complicated question, for one thing what do you want to do with the gun? The type of shooting you are doing determines the type of ammo you shoot with it. Also which USP is it (the compact, one of the full sizes, the tactical, the expert etc); but we can make some general recommendatios, both for the USP, and for other .45 pistols.

The most important factor in deciding on ammunition, is choosing a loading of adequate power, that your gun groups well with, and that you can control properly.

It is far more important to get ammo that gives you sufficient practical accuracy (4" groups or better at your maximum engagement range... usually 10-25 yards), then to have the most powerful load on the planet.

You must also be able to rapidly make accurate followup shots in case of failure to stop.

You can't miss fast enough to win, you can't miss hard enough to win; and winning in a gun fight means being the one not dead, so don't miss.

230gr FMJ (full metal jacket aka “ball” or “hardball” ) is fine for practice, but marginal for defensive purposes.

Various 185 gr or 200gr truncated cone, semi-wadcutter, and other solid tipped bullets are great for competition (and especially reloading for competition), but generally speaking arent what you want for defensive purposes unless your gun doesn't feed hollowpoints reliably.

Somehow however, I dont think a pistol competitor is going to be asking what to feed his new USP. Somehow I think we are talking about ammunition for serious social purposes.

For defensive purposes, in .45acp I strongly recommend a premium jacketed hollowpoint (JHP). They are available in weights from 165gr to 230gr, and in standard, +p and +p+ pressures (the higher pressure, the higher velocity for given weight); and with a premium namer brand JHP you know you will have at the least acceptable performance (presuming they group well).

The major brands of premium hollowpoint to consider are Speer Gold Dot, Federal Premium/Hydrashok, Winchester Silver Tip, Cor-Bon, Remington Golden Saber, Hornady XTP, and Winchester Ranger. There are other brands, and product lines from those brands, but those I mentioned make up the majority of the premium market; and I can personally vouch for their quality and efficacy in testing media.

Next, you need to determine your personal recoil tolerance. The lighter the gun, the more you will feeel recoil. The heavier a bullet, the more recoil you will feel for a given speed. The faster a bullet is moving, the more recoil it will feel for a given weight.

Too much recoil for you personally is subjective, but in my USP I don't find any standard +p or +p+ loads to be excessive.

Once you’ve discovered your recoil tolerance, you need to find a load that groups well with your gun. Buy a selection of loads that fit within your recoil tolerance, across a broad range of weights and velocities; and shoot for groups.

A gun may group roughly the same with any load you try; but that's fairly rare. The msot common situation is that you will find a few loads that group poorly, a broad range that group reasonably well, and then a laod or two that give you substantially better groups.

The mechanical (as opposed to environmental or operator) factors which effect group size are many and varied; generally significant are the weight, length, construction of the bullet, powder burn rate, charge weight, overall pressure, the length and rifling of the barrel, and the overall "tightness" of the gun. Of course the single most important factor is consistency. The more consistent all the major factors are, the more consistent your groups will be; and of course the same applies to the shooter.

Anyway, that's not all that relevant to our discussion, except to highlight a couple things:

1. Shorter barreled guns are generally more picky about load selection in general, both pressure and weight

2. Polygonally rifled barrels generally have a broader range of decently grouping loads, but are pickier about the best grouping loads. Polygonally rifled barrles are also somewhat more sensitive to pressure variations within a given weight range.

3. Groups will vary in size with the length and weight of the bullet (some guns like heavier, some lighter)

4. Groups will vary in size with the pressure of the load (some guns like harder, some softer)

6. Ammo with a similar construction, similar length and weight, loaded to a similar pressure and burn rate should group similarly; from the same gun.

Some guns have the perfect storm of ammo sensitivy going for them. For example the Glock 36 is a light weight, short barreled, polygonally rifled gun. From the oprators standpoint it has a short sight radius, and a stubby grip, making operator consistency more difficult from shot to shot. The G36 is a gun that will shoot acceptably across a large range of loads, but it will show great accuracy (which it is certainly capable of) only with a very few.

My personal experience was that the gun liked 185gr and 200gr +p and +p+ loads. In particular going to a 200gr handloaded hornady XTP +p+ tightened my 7 yard groups from 4-6" to under 2". On the other hand shooting standard pressure 230gr hardball, the gun would barely group.

Yes, thats what I mean when I say ammo sensitive; and should illustrate how important it is to find a load that performs well with your gun. It's also important to note that not only is every model different, but each individual gun is slightly different; so waht worked for me, may not work as well for you, or it may work better; thus why it is so important to test for yourself.

Once you’ve narrowed the list down to a few selections which you find group well, don't necessarily chose the one that groups best. Choose the heaviest, fastest load which groups well, and doesnt present excessive recoil to you.

Why the heaviest, fastest? Simple: it gives you the best chance of a disabling wound given a marginal shot, or a failure to expand. The heavier the load is, the better it will peentrate, and the more energy it will deliver. The faster a load is the better it will penetrate, and the more energy it will deliver; thus the heaviest, fastest load that groups well is generally the best choice.

But if energy is so important, why not go for the lighst fastest loads? After all the 165gr (or even lighter) loads can be pushed much faster than the 200gr lods; and the 165gr is still heavier and faster than the .40 S&w, and according to the books delivers more energy than the slower heavier loads...

Yes, thats true, there is more energy in those lighter loads; but there is less momentum, and the energy bleeds of faster. There may be more initial wound shock and a larger temporary stretch cavity (you'll see these terms in magazines), and those MAY stop the attacker faster, but they arent as RELIABLE a wounding mechanism as the heavier bullets.

At some point (actually at two fairly distinct point, 1500-1750fps and 2500-2750fps) velocity produces enough shock to become a more reliable wounding mechanism; but at .45acp velociy ranges, this jsut isn't the case.

This isn't to say that the light weight high velocity loads are bad, but the heavier high rpessure loads have proven over time and experirence to be more reliable stoppers than the lighter loads.

One proviso on that though; choose a load that hits 1000fps or more. It's another one of those breakpoints where a significant increase in damage occurs; somewhere between 950 and 1050fps. The slower, low pressure loads dont reach 950-1050 fps, but the 200gr and 230gr +p and +p+ do.

More specific now…

In my personal experience, the USP likes hot 185gr and 200gr loads; or VERY hot 165gr loads. Overall the USP does better with faster loads. My personal preferences are the 185gr+p gold dot, the 200gr +p gold dot, the 185gr +p hornady XTP, the 185gr+p cor-bon, and the 185gr +p federal permium (hydrashok).

If you find that the heavier +p loadings give you too much recoil, then get either the fastest 165gr load you can (cor-bon), or the heaviest fastest standard pressure loads you can (230gr gold dot or hydrashok).

My springfield champion, a 4" 1911 prefers the 200gr gold dot +p, the 185gr hydrashok +p, the 185gr and 165gr CorBon +p+ or +p+ handloads in the same range

I still ahvent found the best laod for my S&w 625 (5" revolver), but I've got some recommendations I'm going to try out.

I’ve written a BUNCH of posts about the subject, in varying detail; here’s a couple:

Basic Ammo Questions Part 1

Lies, Damned lies, and Ballistics

Serious Chamberings for Serious Purposes

Under Pressure

So Sad, So True

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Two of the questions have ambiguous answers

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Circumhorizontal arc

I saw one while flying once; gorgeous. This one is from Idaho a few days ago.

Little lifetime changes

So I was shaving in the shower this morning, as I almost always do; and it hit me: the military has changed me (and almost everyone else who's been through it), in many small, but permanent ways.

I started thinking about it more, and then decided to make a little list of the top ten that come to mind (just the little things though. The big ones are a bit more fundamental).

1. Showers: I can't remember the last time I took a bath for reasons other than physical ailment (i.e. I needed hot water to unkink myself). I take showers, as hot as I possibly can stand it, at the highest pressure possible. I shampoo up the second I get in the shower and start scrubbing immediately. I almost always shave, and brush my teeth in the shower, and then I rinse off. The only time I shave outside the shower is when I get too stubbly of an evening and I shave again, but in the sink. I can't stand going out in public with an uneven shave.

I used to do it in 3 minutes like clockwork, but I've relaxed enough that I take 5 or 6 these days. Anything more than that and I feel waterlogged; again unless I'm in there for theraputic reasons.

2. Change and keys: I can't STAND jingling, or pockets with anything visible in them, unless it's clipped to the edge. My pocket knife and flashlight are clipped to opposite pockets; sometimes a pen is clipped next to the flashlight, my keys are clipped on my belt and tucked into the top of the pocket, my lighter is in my watch pocket, and a coin (not change) is in my left pocket.

Nothing else goes in my front pockets unless it's a gun. My right hip has my wallet unless I'm wearing a jacket in which case its ALWAYS in the jacket. My left hip pocket carries mighty mouse in a wallet holster, again unless I'm wearing a jacket in whcih case it's in the jacket.

Keys must be tightly wrapped (either in pocket or with a rubber band) to prevent jingling, and change does NOT go into my pockets for any longer then it takes to dump it in my car, on my desk, or in my bedroom.

A man does not bulge when he sits, or jingle when he walks.

3. Shorts: The only time I ever wear shorts is when I'm working out, at the beach, or doing heavy physical work in hot weather.

4. Sneakers and Shoes: The only time I ever wear sneaks is when I'm excercising. I always wear dress or dress casual shoes. If those shoes can be polished they are ALWAYS polished.

Oh and sandals are for the the beach, the shower, or the locker room, NEVER in public. The most perfect female physical specimen in the world could walk right past me, and if she was wearing flipflops I'd say she looked like shit.

5. Shirts: I blouse my shirts, check my gig line, and peg roll my sleeves; pretty much automatically. I keep a zippo on me just to burn off loose threads. I always button everything but the top button on a button down shirt, unless I'm wearing a tie. I hate having my forearms covered unless its a formal occaison and I pegroll EVERYTHING when it's not. All my t-shirts are sleeved crew necks and the second the neck or sleeve pulls out of shape they become working on the car shirts.

6. Answering the phone: I used to answer the phone with my location or number, and my name (Program analysis office, Lt. Byrne Speaking); now I've relaxed enough that I just answer it with my full name. Yes, people think it's weird.

Personally when someone just says "Hello" when answering the phone I think it's weird.

7. Clean Plate: Take what you want, but eat what you take. It takes a serious mental effort NOT to eat everything in front of me, even if Im stuffed or don't want to eat. Its so ingrained it's not funny. Also, it is almost a reflex to eat whatever you can, whenever you can grab it, as fast as possible; since you neve rknow when the next chance might be.

Note: This is great when you're burning 5000+ calories a day (as I was at one point), but not so great for a typical semi-sedentary american male.

8. Huah: (spelled variously depending on the inflection used) I broke myself of that one for a long time; then I started hanging with military buddies again and it came back. It's the all purpose exclamation, longer, shorter, drawled, or shouted depending on the situation.

Also included are GTG/RTG, move with a purpose, the p's, Charlie Fox, lessons learned, briefs and AARs, and other random expressions. Sometimes my wife looks at me funny, and I don't know why, until I think "Oh yeah, I just said that in GI-Jargon"

9. Hair: I start saying "I need a haircut" about a week after my last one. When it gets longer then 1/2" I really start bitching; 3/4" and I obsess until I get a new cut. If I could get away with it I'd wear a "Not Quite" (as in "not quite a high and tight") all the time.

10. Sir or Ma'am: All people, no matter what age, are Sir or Ma'am unless they tell me otherwise. Some people get offended by it, or think I'm making fun of them. My brother in law called me "Eddie Haskell" the first time he met me.

There are lots of others, but those were the first ten little things that came to mind. Actually, I had some of them before the Air Force (like shaving in the shower), but lets say they were ... strongly reinforce, by the experience.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The "To Spend" list

The other day I wrote about what we would consider "Set for life", in the post Material Wants.

Well, obviously those are long term things; after all, they are in the set for life category. There are also a bunch of short to medium term things (the next few months to a year) that we need and want.

So since we moved into our new house in February, Mel and I have been making "To Buy" and "To Spend" lists. By that I mean lists of stuff we need, or want, to buy or spend money on once we have the bills paid and a cushion saved.

Actually in some cases the purchase will come before or during the cushioning process

The lists are getting kind of long actually... it's amazing what you need around the house, and in your daily life; that you put off when you arent earning. Some of it was addressed right away with the big costco/wal-mart spend-o-rama with the first pa check, but that was all little stuff; this is big stuff.

Anyway theres roughly three categories, the "we need this as soon as possible"
, the "this can wait but we still need it" and the "We'd LIKE this, but its not absolutely necessary" list. Mels entries on the list are highlighted, but basically we worked this one up together.

Immediate needs:

1. Pay debts and back bills: a few thousand incurred over the course of our brokeness; including all those things that werent critical or overdue that we put off.

2. Car maintenance: our AC is out, we're having power seat issues, I need to replace the front shocks, rear brake pads, and all four tires... not desperately but its getting to be important. The only problem is, teh maintenance is getting to be expensive enough that rather than rebuild this one as a project car (as I'd planned), it may make more sense just to go buy a newer model in better condition instead.

3. Insurance: We need renters insuarance on the new place, and to up the coverage on the car (as soon as I do the maintenance and it's worth bothering with anyway).

4. Legal fees etc: We've got custody issues to work through.

5. Buy shelving, bookcases, cabinets, drawers, and closet organizers: We have a lot of random stuff in our house, much of which is sitting in semiorganized piles, because we dont have enough shelf/cabinet space. IKEA is our friend

Mel: plus we need a new gun cabinet/safe/ammo locker and some new furniture for the kids room, since they are outgrowing their junior beds quite quickly.

6. Seating and Tables in the house: We're living on folding chairs and tables at the moment. We've got a decent couch, but we could use a second one, and some arm chairs. We don't have nearly enough chairs; and basically no table space.

Mel: We definitely need another couch with other couples as friends. Plus a real dining room table and chairs would free up all of our "good" lounging chairs.

7. New mattress: The mattress we've had for a while is pretty crap. We've both got cranky backs; a new high quality mattress is definitely in order.

8. Appliances: We need four things at this point; a stand mixer, a carpet steamer, a good vacuum, and a chest freezer. Trust me, we need to maximize our Costco savings and ice storage. The fridge that came with the place is way too small. Also I want to hunt this fall, and if I bring home some meat, what are we going to do with it?

Mel: plus a chest freezer would allow me to make certain things in big batches, like ungodly amounts of turkey stock and cookie dough.

9. Clothes: I've worn out most of the clothes that fit me well, as I've gained weight since the last time I did any real clothes shopping. For all you women out there, the last major clothes shopping I did was two years ago. And I did some minor clothes shopping a year ago. I haven't purchased more than a dozen articles of clothing other than socks and t-shirts since. I've also worn through a couple good pairs of shoes, so I need to replace those. Mel on the other hand has never HAD much clothing, and the shopping spree I gave her for christmas barely made a dent.

10. CCW renewal for me, and first CCW for Mel: Pursuant to the crap about my drivers license, my CCW was suspended. In order to reinstate it I'm going to have to take the new class. Mel has never HAD a CCW, but wants hers as soon as possible.

Mel: with that comes the need to buy 4 or 5 carrying purses and some new clothes, in order to conceal of course. Oh and holsters and other accessories as well.

Need, but can wait a while:

1. A new car/truck/SUV for Mel: Mels '76 pickup has ben relegated to airport truck duty for her father, so she needs a replacement. At first she wanted a 4 door pickup, then an SUV, now she things she wants a sports wagon because SUV's and pickups are too big and unweildy and none of them have five speeds anymore; but we need the hauling and towing capacity a truck type vehicle will give us so it's all up in the air. Another post on this topic to come shortly.

Mel: the pickup was never mine to begin with, it was on loan from my family. I've never had a vehicle that wasn't in need of extensive work, and with the kids in tow I need something seriously trustworthy, with plenty of room. Plus I do a lot of driving through mountain passes, and need something that can perform on 10% grades, and I want a standard dammit.

2. Upgrade or replace my car: The Kids have really been trashing my bimmer. I'm kind of irritated at this point, because the car was PRISTINE before they got a hold of it, and its now a bit of a wreck inside. Anyway, I've been putting off the upgrades on the car for a while, waiting for my turn to come up on the waiting list for the new motor I want. Well I've got to make a decision now whether I'm going to spend the money I was planning on the project car, or just buy a newer model in better condition, and tweak it. Again, another post on this topic to come shortly.

Mel: oh yes, like he would mind getting himself an M5.

3. A new pocket gun for me: Mel wants mighty mouse (the Kel Tec P3AT), so I'm going to buy an S&W 340pd to act as my pocket gun; and maybe buy the KelTec PF9 as well when it becomes available. We also need A replacement CCW piece for the G36, and the equivalent for Mel: I've posted a couple times on this, but I really do need a compact concealed piece. I have my Kahr K9, but I'd much rather trust to a .45; I'm just not sure which one to get yet. Mel has never had a CCW piece yet, and though she loves her SP101, I'd like to get her into a nice concealable auto as well, in .40, .357 SIG or .45 ideally, but 9mm would be acceptable if she doesnt like the feel of any of the others (she has no problem with the recoil of a 1911 in .45). Importantly it needs a decent capacity, simple action, and night sights. Maybe a Glock, an XD, or a SIG. Mel likes not having to deal with a safety or a hammer. We'll see, because she's very picky about feel in her hand (as she should be).

4. A shotgun for Mel and a replacement for my stolen long guns: Mel just cant handle my 12ga very well. She's got short arms, and she's recoil sensitive; so we're going to find her a 20ga pump. I had two AR-15s and my M14 stolen a few months ago, along with a bunch of accessories, and I need to replace those as well. I just don't feel right without having a couple defensive rifles around.

5. Laser vision correction: Both Mel and I are REALLY wanting laser vision correction

6. Firearms training: Again this will be a refresh for me, and a new experience for Mel; but I want her to learn from good instructrors how to defend herself with a gun. We're thinking about Gunsite (which I've taken) and Frontsight, both of which are convenient to the house.

7. A lawnmower: Our lawn is currently D E D dead, but we're going to reseed later, and we'll need a lawnmower and a spreader. Also we need to fix the in ground sprinkler system.

Mel: I will never understand the this area's great love for having lawns in the middle of the desert. I'd much rather put in some ground cover (myoporum or dew plant or something of the like) but as long as we're renting the landlord wants a lawn.

8. Inflatable swimming pool: This is a Mel thing. She's afraid of having a real pool, but she still wants something for the kids to splash around in. I wouldn't ever buy one of those cheapo plastic pools; but now they have some pretty decent inflatable pools made of the nylon/rubber inflatable raft material. They look like a decent solution and only cost a couple hundred bucks. Personally, I'd rather just get a decent aboveground pool and deck, and that way we could avoid the landscaping hassles; but Mel has a phobia of real pools because of a near drowning as a baby.

Mel: Plus a big enough pool is good exercise for the two of us and we get to chill out in the middle of summer.

9. A new office suite: I need a bunch of new stuff for my home office, from furniture, up to and including a new desktop PC. My current PC is three years old, and has hit the limit of everything but it's storage (I've got 500 gigs in there).

10. A patio setup: We just grabbed a charcoal grill, but we want to grill A LOT, and use our outdoor space. We've got this huge gorgeous yard, and no way of taking advantage of it (other than for the kids). For this we really need a patio set (tables and chairs), a gas grill, and a BBQ smoker. Ok we dont NEEED the smoker, but it's not all that much and its something we want to do a lot of.

Want, sorta need, but not really need:

1. Various and sundry tools: I have all the basic tools I need for home maintenance, but I really want a table saw, drill press, router etc... really what I consider the basic carpentry and handyman tools. I like to build and fix things, and at the moment I can't really do that. I want my workshop back damnit.

2. A poker table: We've got this rumpus room area, and we want to put a poker table in it. The room isnt quite big enough for a pool table, but a poker table is perfect, and with a cover on it is jsut a generally good table for a game room anyway. Oh and of course we need the chairs for it.

3. A new TV and home theater: We're ready to upgrade to an HDTV, and the stopgap stereo I bought a year ago is dying. I'll put that stereo into the bedroom, and the good new multimedia center in the living room with the big HDTV. I may build a media-pc as well.

4. A home gym: I like to work out, but I never go to my gym. I dont much like the place, but it was across the street from our old house. Now that its a couple miles away, I don't particularly want to go there. Mel has a real problem working out in front of other people. She's dead set on a home gym, and I'd love to have one. We want a REAL home gym though (a rack system with free weights, and cable accessories), so that a guy of my size and mass can get a good workout. Included in that we want a recumbent bike, and maybe a treadmill.

5. Bicycles: Mel and I want bikes to ride together, and maybe those little trailers for the kids.

6. A hot tub: This is the big near term luxury item. We can probably pick up a decent used one for a couple grand, or even get one of those portable inflatable models; but Mel and I very much want a hot tub. We've both got iffy backs, and I've got the bad knees; plus of course the home gym thing, and just wanting to excercise more in general... yeah a hot tub is definitely on the list.

7. A new sewing machine, serger, and other craft stuff: For some reason fashion is against Mel, and doesn't believe in good-looking sundresses. Plus a sewing machine would be handy for other crafts (like quilts) and clothes and costumes for the kids. Really we jsut want a lot of craft stuff in general.

8. Good backyard play equipment: Once fall comes the kids will spend most of their time outside, and nothing is better exercise than a private playground. The only problem is the sheer amount of space a climber, slide, and swingset would take up, but I'm sure Chris is up to the challenge of building one.

9. Recreational vehicles, i.e. ATVs, a boat, and maybe an RV or Camp Trailer: We obviously don't have the space for it right now, but we want to do some serious playing on the weekend and a trans-continental U.S. trip in somewhere in our future.

10.Motorcycles: like the RV they would be great for a U.S. trip but also just for weekending and for all of those fun state routes I currently travel on with the car. They're already fun in the bimmer, and the route to my mom's is already a pretty popular biker's road.

Please note, I didn't put the motorcycles and ATV's on the list, she did. Have I mentioned how much I love my wife?

Product Review - Philips HN060 Headphones

There's a LOT of noise in my office. It's at the top end of the "annoying" level, and crossing over into the 'fatiguing" level a lot of the time.

Even when it's quiet, theres a some pretty constant high frequency white noise, and it gets very irritating.

I have a pair of Bose Quiet comfort II headphones, that I absolutely love. I took them into the office one day (a different office, a few years ago), and I started bringing them all the time, because they just made my day to day life better in the office. Unfortunately, the QQIIs are quite large, not very portable, and awfully expensive (about $300) to try and have two pairs.

I wanted a pair of active noise cancelling headphones that I could take with me in my laptop bag everywhere, and that wouldnt be so obtrusive. Unfortunately, I havent yet found a pair of decent high end actives at a relatively reasonable price, that work, and are portable.

At first I figure I would jsut get some good quality passive in ear canal 'phones from Sure, E.A.R., or Etymotic (and I still will at some point soon). A good quality set, custom molded to your ear canal, can provide well over 30db of noise reduction without frequency distortion, and in some cases over 40db. Unfortunately, for me at the moment, said custom pieces run $400-$800.

Now, as I said, I havent found a high end ANR set that I liked yet; but the low end have been getting better and better (and cheaper and cheaper) all the time. I saw these in the store and I figured I'd give them a shot:

The basics are straightforward. These are in ear 'phones with a silicone seal that provides about 20db of noise reduction, as well as an active noise reduction module.

Now as to how they work... not bad. They dont reduce the irritating frequencies as much as the QQIIs do, but for $40 what do you expect. They provide a decent music listening experience, and are fine for watching DVD's on the laptop. They are a bit weak on bass, but better than most cheap ear buds that the average I-pod owner uses; if that's your basis for comparison then thes will sounds like heaven. To an audiophile like myself they have a bit of top end clipping, and although the have decent bass frequency responce, there's jsut not a lot of dynamic bounce or feel on the bottom.

Basically, compared to a Shure reference monitor these are as bad as Koss or Aiwa; compared to Koss, these are great. I'd rate them as somewhere between a good Sony and a Sennheiser.

They, like most non custom in canal 'phones, get uncomfortable after a couple hours. Also they, like most lower cost ANR devices, have a bit of noise induce by the ANR itself; but they DO funtion with the ANR turned off (albeit with a somewhat muted signal).

On the positive side they are well built, as comfortable as in canal 'phones can be, come with a very strong neck loop, and a useful little carrying case. Also, very important for in canal 'phones, they have several sizes of canal inserts to choose from.

Overall, not bad. A good deal for $40, but I'd probably just spend the money on the higher end passives if I had it to spend (and I will at some point). Of course if you don't feel like spending $300-$800 on headphones, and these are comfortable for your ears, they're a great product.

Fingerprinting for Fathers Day

So yesterday JohnOC and I went around to a couple local gun shops, and tired out some of the gun options I've been thinking about lately.

First stop Scottsdale Gun Club (John and I are both members), where we checked out the 340 and 360pd; and I've finally decided to pick one up; mostly because this pic is damn near actual size:

I'm going for the 340, without the hi-viz sight, exactly as is pictured here. I generally like a fiberoptic sight, but not on a pocket gun where the fiber pipe could get knocked off, or the squared edge could snag. Also I generally dont care for concealed or shrouded hammer, or DAO, revolvers; but for a pocket gun, the more snagfree the better.

The only sticking point for me has been the price; and with my local shops down to just over $600... well that's still a lot, but I'm thinking it's justifiable, whereas when they were selling for $800 there was no chance in hell (list is still over $900).

Next up I finally got my hands on one of the new CZ production Dan Wesson bobtail commanders:

I mentioned these a few months back; and I'm still very interested (especially since they sell a 10mm version, but also in the .45).

See, since I generally carry IWB, and I'm a pretty big guy, I have no prolem with concealing a commander LENGTH gun, but the back corner of the grip frame prints and snags easily. An officers grip frame on the other hand is too small for me. This is why I'm seriously considering the Kimber Ultra series; but also I've been wanting to get my hands on the bobtail. I figure the rounded grip frame reduces that problem (though I wonder about mag change speed)

Well yes, it definitely does; but more importantly, it feels GREAT in the hand, and it points PERFECTLY. I tried an Ed Brown bobtail out a while back, soon after they first came out; and I love it. I was just concerned that Dan Weson wouldn't be able to execute as well, and I've got to tell you, it feels great to me. The machine work looked great, and the pistol locked up tight as a bank vault.

Now if they would only do it in titanium... Seriously 10mm titanium bobtail commander. Hell yes I'd be all over it. Maybe I could get the Ed Brown bobtail jig, a Caspian titanium frame, and build my own. I've machined titanium before, it's a stone ass bitch, but it's doable... anyway...

The only real reservation I still have on the DW, is reports of spotty quality control. I'm not sure if those reports come from before the CZ takeover, or after however; so I'm still in wait and see mode. Kimber had the same problems for a couple years, but they seem to have gotten their act back together... we'll see.

Next up, a gun that I've been lusting after since it came out, the SW1911PD. It's a typical external extractor Commander, but for one thing: it's in black titanium

Light, fast, slick, and great quality; at a reasonable price (well, actual price anyway. S&Ws msrps are inflated worse than any other major manufacturer)... yeah I can deal with that.

Then we went over to Bear Arms (a great company to deal with if you're ever in Scottsdale, or see them at a gun show); and their much more diverse selection (SGC is kind of like a high end car dealership or jewlery store for guns rather than a real gun shop. Lots of new luxury models, and a few premium used custom or collectior guns, but none of the dirt and grit of a "real gun place"), and more traditional gun store atmosphere.

The first gun I looked at there was the new 329pd that Michael Bane mentioned a few weeks back:

I question the wisdom of a 26oz .44 magnum in general; but I bet with .44spl loads it's not too bad; and it would REALLY make a great camping gun. Plus, with those sculptured wood grips it points amazingly well. The natural point is MUCH better than the sculptured rubber Hogues on my 625. That said, I think I'd want the hogues for the recoil control on the .44. I wonder if I could get a rubber version...

Bear Arms is the top local SIG dealer; and they didn't dissapoint on their selection. I've been trying to get my hands on one of the new P220 SAO guns since they were announced, and they are the only dealer I've talked to in months that has been able to keep them in stock.

Now I LOVE the p220 (and SIGs in general), and this gun felt great in the hand, pointed well, and overall I think it's a great gun. Unfortunately it's a little bit bulky (as are all SIGs), and the safety was a bit too low profile. It was a bit more difficult to wipe it on and off than I would prefer.

There's also a new P220 "carry" model, but they said that they havent seen it yet, and that they have no idea when it might be coming, but that it wasnt before August:

The 220 carry is basically the 245 slide, on the 220 frame, pretty much commanderising the 220; and I think it would be the better carry solution. It's just as thick as the 220, but not as long, and lighter, so it's definitely doable.

The only real problem I have with it, is that any gun designed specially for concealed carry shouldnt have a light rails, or any other kind of projections of sharp snagging edges. Of course I can always go for the SAS version of the 220 carry:

Which is gorgeous, AND has a beautiful meltjob. The only thing I don't like about it is the RDAK trigger pack (it's a modified DAO trigger), but maybe I could get used to it.

Oh and they also said that Kel-Tec hasn't told them when they were going to be shipping the new PF-9. Just like every other dealer I've talked to, they are in the dark, and KelTec hasn't promised them by August as the officially announced. Also Kahr is having some problems filling orders, and the returns on the KP45 are continuing.

Anyway, I still havent figured out what I'm going to do to replace the G36, but I've got more food for thought now; and hey, playing with guns is good fun for grownups.

When did they stop?

When I was a kid, and that isn't exactly a geological age ago; there was a U.S. Flag in every single classrom. Most were on angled jackstaffs flying on the wall next to the P.A. speaker, over the chlakboard, or maybe over the main door.

This didnt warrant notice, any more than desks or chalkboards would.

A bill has just been introduced in the Arizona state house to require that all educational institutions that recieve public funding display the flag in every classroom. Current regulations (as pursuant to U.S. Flag code) only state that a flag must be flown somewhere on campus while school is in session.

My question is, when did they change? When and why did they stop?

The ed-stablishment is complaining that they don't have the budget, and that they don't have the personell trained in U.S. Flag code, to do so.

You have got to be kidding me.

Every day at my school, the teacher or the custodian would go around at night and roll the flags up on their jackstaffs. I (or my wife) do it every night to OUR flag. It's not all that hard. Not only that, but if a flag is permanently mounted, it is acceptable to leave that flag flying at all times, so long as that flag is "properly illuminated" or so long as that flag is indoors.

The flag code is not difficult. Here's a well illustrated guide, and the annotated code.

Not only that, but I guarantee you they could ask for and recieve enough donations for a proper flag in every classroom in a heartbeat. A decent small indoor flag, U.S. made, only costs about $20. Even a beautiful embroidered presentation flag is only about $100 for a small classroom size model.

Even better to my mind, an ammendment has been added to the bill that would require the concurrent display of the constitution, bill of rights and other ammendments, and declaration of independence as well.

Again, the ed-stablishment says they don't have the budget; but I ask why isn't this done alreayd/ Why hasnt this ALWAYS been done? When I was a kid every general ed classrom and history classroom had all of the above prominently displayed.

And still they protest?

No, I believe they are unwilling, because they do not beleive in our nation, our greatness, our exceptional position in this world as the true bastion of freedom and liberty (however it may now be compromised); and they do not wish to be associated with our symbol.

If this legislation passes, and is funded or volunteers fund it; I can assure you the ed-stablishment will find some other excuse to refuse to display our flag. I can guarnatee you that there will be protests by hispanic and native American groups. I guarantee you there will be teachers who refuse to display the flag in their classrooms, or who refuse to teach or assemble in a room where the flag is displayed.

They do this because they are the enemies of our country, and of our children; no more, no less.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reason number whatever why I love my wife

We're watching this commercial the other night for a new minivan. The wife in the commercial goes shopping and puts all her stuff in underfloor bins so her husband doesnt see how much she bought:

Mel: Honey, now aren't you glad I'm not like that
Chris: Yup, you are SOOO not a chick
Mel: Exactly... though think of the tactical possiblities of that hidden storage

God I love my wife

Luke is a whiny little bitch

Material wants

I mentioned in "If I had a Million Dollars" that Mel and I figured somewhere between 5 and 10 million would have us set for life, with whatever we wanted. Now that sounds like a lot; it's more than 30 years of work at my current salary for example; but really it's not all that much on the "rich" scale.

Also that covers pretty much anything we would ever want materially speaking. Our wish list isnt huge, but it isnt cheap either. Basically our dream list looks something like this:

1. a nice house, with a few acres, near a small airport and a navigable body of water leading either to the ocean or a large lake, wooded areas, and a reasonable climate with seasons - mountains a plus. The house shouldn't be huge, but we want four or five kids, so at least 6 bedrooms. I figure 4000 square feet would be more than enough. Also a good sized workshop, at least a 4 car garage, a pasture, and a paddock. In an ideal world I could even have a private shooting range and airstrip (they could easily use the same land). Call it 1 million to 2 million assuming we move someplace reasonable; or maybe as little as half a million someplace cheap.

2. Nice home furnishings, including decent computers, professional grade kitchen, nice home theater etc... call it another .25 mil to .5mil

3. A couple decent cars (a high end sports sedan, and a nice SUV), a couple boats (one sail one power), a couple motorcycles and dirt bikes (two street, two dirt), and a truck to tow them. Maybe throw in a "play" car or two (a jeep and an AC cobra kit car or something similar), a couple watercraft, a couple quads, maybe a couple snowmobiles... Call it another .25 mil for the short list, and maybe as much as .5mil for everything.

4. A machine shop and woodworking shop. I want all the tools I'd ever need to build the stuff I want to build (cars, boats, motorcycles, guns, furniture, and airplanes).
Probably another .25 mil

5. Horses. My wife wants two horses. And of course along with that goes all the ancilary stuff. Figure it at .25mil

6. Gun and Accessories. Lots of guns and accessories. And ammo, lots and lots and lots of ammo. A few class three items, but no straight collectors pieces. Some nice custom rifles and pistols. Call it $125,000

7. Books, CDs and DVDs. We want an EXTENSIVE library of all three. Everything on our amazon wish lists and more. Call it another $125,000

8. Supplies... I mean raw materials and plans for ... everything. Like I said, we want to build and make stuff. Lots of stuff. Airplanes, boats, cars, guns, ammo, furniture, other woodworking, quilting, clothing... stuff. And we want to build a lot of it so make it $250,000 worth of raw materials and parts

The final material one is almost certainly the most expensive thing we can't actually live in...

9. A six to eight seat light plane. A large piston twin or light turbine are really our only chices here if we want an 8 seater; but there are reasonable six seat singles. Of course in the general aviation world reasonable takes on a different meaning. We'd also need a hangar for it, and for the homebuilt projects I'd want to work on.

The worst part there though is the price. Not only is it high, it's highly variable. It could go anywhere from $250,000 all the way up to 2 million.

10. Education. On the immaterial side we'd both like to go back for masters degrees, and some additional professional training (I'd like to learn advanced machine work, and better welding, also lots of additional firearms training). And of course we'd want to put money away for the kids colleges as well. Hell we could put aside anywhere from $500k to over a million there.

Anyway, I can't imagine ever wanting anything more than that materially; and I already have everything I want in my family, except maybe more of them. Plus that would let me pursue what I really want to do professionally (which I'll go into at some later time).

The total cost for all that? Somewhere between 3 million and 6 million.

It's a good goal to shoot for really; and it's entirely achievable.

Hell, I'd be pretty happy with about a third of that. Basically all the same stuff, just less of it; and I could actually do THAT in the next four or five years without too much difficulty (and WITH a lot of debt) if the universe doesnt kick me in the balls again any time soon.

If I had a million dollars

It's a cute song by the canadian socialist social crusader geek rock band barenaked ladies. It's also a fond wish of billions; which of course is the genesis of the song.

Unfortunately, these days a million just aint all that much. A few days ago Connie DuToit posts a gag thread in The Other Side of Kim Forums, saying "Wanted: 10 million dollars"; figuring half would go to taxes, 25% of what was left would go to debt and living expenses and practical necessities etc... and that they could live off the rest, never having to work a "normal" job again. Funny enough, thats what the wife and I figured as well; we don't have any debt thankfully, btu we figured that somewhere between 5 million and 10 million would cover all of our material wants (which arent really all that great) in perpetuity, as well as providing a solid investment base, and inheritance for our kids.

One of the commenters posted this:
$10 million?

If you happen to come across a lump sum of $1 million (or even in several installments) and blow it, you’re not only a fool, you’re a damn fool. It doesn’t take that much money to stay “rich” once you are.
It did from 1996-2001, and 1 million isn’t rich anymore; in fact it’s barely in the “comfortably well off” category. Between houses costing half a mill, taxes, the cost of colleges, and kids in general... well a million jsut aint what it used to be.

Hell, 10 milion aint what it used to me.

I personally (well, I and the teams I was working with anyway) came up with two completely new security technologies, that are now in widespread use throughout IT. Not the theoretical backing for the technologies, but I applied the theory to new products and techniques that had never been used before.

This made me quite rich for a while, but I got screwed pretty throughly in the .bomb

In 1999 I was sitting on 12.5 million in cash and convertible assets; which I was barred from selling until 2001 (I was employee 14 at a startup that hit moderately big). In late 2000 The management of the company was ousted by the VC’s, given golden parachutes, and replaced with a breakup specialist. This scumbag proceeded to sell us off piece by piece, until the stock I was holding was only worth 300k.

They did it to deliberately devalue the employee stock holdings, because the IRS was saying that the company would have to take a HUGE tax hit because our optons and grants were all at $0.05 to $0.25 and the value was around $45 (I had 25000 shares grant at $0.05 a share, and an additional 25,000 options at $0.25 a share).

They structured the deal so that upper management and VC’s wouldnt have to take the tax hit when we all converted and cashed out. They also made sure that no-ones options vested, that we were just stuck with our grants, which we couldnt sell until after they were done stripping the company bare. Basically the chiefs all got a few million bucks, and everyone below the C level got royally fucked.

I went and took that 300k, and co-founded a business in ireland in late 2000. We had just signed contracts that guaranteed us at least 16 million in revenue (about 30% profit, and I owned 24% of the company) a year for at least four years. We OWNED our IP, and none of our competitors could touch us. By conventional valuation methods, that would make the company worth between 64, and 112 million (between 4 and seven years of booked revenue, plus assets, minus liabilities); and my share from 15 to 28 million.

9/11 hit, and two of our partners, who were established businesses (I as the CTO had 24%, the managing director had 24% and the two established companies each had 26%); deliberately starved the company of operating capital to make it fail as a going concern, then backdoored the contracts out from under us.

They used the loss of revenue in the fourth quarter of 2001 as the excuse, and by January 2002 we were dead. I thought about suing, but I didnt have the money for the fight.

Believe me, a million bucks seems like a lot of money, but in business it’s nothing.