Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Never tell me the odds

The odds that you'll die of a particular cause (as an American):
  • Motor vehicle (car, van, or truck): 1-in-84
  • Heart disease (before the age of 65): 1-in-438
  • Cancer (before the age of 74): 1-in-600
  • Stroke (before the age of 74): 1-in-734
  • Motorcyle: 1-in-938
  • Natural water: 1-in-2,828
  • Bicycle: 1-in-4,472
  • Air travel: 1-in-5,552
  • Swimming pool: 1-in-6,031
  • Bath tub: 1-in-9,377
  • Staph infection: 1-in-16,146
  • Food-borne illness: 1-in-33,333
  • Flood: 1-in-30,000
  • Tornado: 1-in-60,000
  • Lightning strike: 1-in-83,930
  • Bus: 1-in-94,242
  • Earthquake: 1-in-131,890
  • Train: 1-in-139,617
  • Asteroid impact: 1-in-500,000
  • Tsunami: 1-in-500,000
  • Measles: 1-in-300,000,000
Each year in the United States, there are 26-30,000 deaths by firearm. As of 2006, Roughly 55% of them are suicides (the number varies greatly year to year, between 40% and 60%).

Of the remaining 10,000 to 18,000, somewhere between 60% and 80% (depending on the year) are one felon killing another (according to the FBI).

The number of non-felons killed (other than suicides) using a gun in the US is anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 a year (again, highly variable year to year). About 20% of those are accidents, and 80% are murders. Of those murders approximately 80% were committed by people with felony records.

It is, and has been since 1934 federally (earlier in most states), unlawful for a felon to own or possess a firearm. Since 1994, a background check, conducted with the FBI and usually the state police of the state the gun is being sold in, has been required for all firearms purchases from a dealer to prevent felons from purchasing firearms legally.

Let me repeat: a felon cannot legally purchase, own, or possess a firearm in the united states.

Oh and only about 400 of those killed using a firearm TOTAL per year are under the age of 16 (obviously, still too many, but far lower than gun control groups would have you believe). About 40% of those are suicides (almost all between the age of 14 and 16), and most of the rest are accidental.

The number of murder victims killed using a firearm, below the age of 16, is something on the order of 100 per year. For those who did not have a serious juvenile criminal record, that number is nearly zero.

Over the course of a lifetime, the likelihood of ALL US citizens (including suicides and felons shooting each other) dieing of a gunshot wound is approximately 1-in-18,000.

Over the course of a lifetime, the likelihood of a non-felon being murdered with a gun, is about 1 in 500,000.

If you're over 34, not a felon, don't abuse drugs or alcohol; and live in an area within the bottom 80% of population density, and a median income of $40,000 or more (the major risk factors for murder); the chances you will be murdered using a firearm are statistically insignificant. Essentially zero.

Those numbers are from the CDC and FBI by the way. Not exactly pro gun propaganda.

UPDATE: Fixed raw shooting numbers to reflect current CDC data. I was working off the wrong numbers for the total shootings. The percentage of suicides is even higher than it used to be, at about 55%


Last week I wrote about my mom going into the hospital, and how my dad dived into his work in an attempt to deal.

Well, she's still in the hospital. I've been going to see her every day as the doctors have poked and prodded and scanned her trying to figure out what's wrong.

Every day she's gotten a bit more rest, felt a bit better, and taken less morphine, and as she's gotten better I've been able to scale back the visits and somewhat return to my normal routine. No matter the outcome I'm considerably less worried because I see her improving every day.

So yesterday finally the oncologist figured out part of what is wrong; she has ductal cancer, i.e. cancer of the milk ducts. It's a well-known precursor to breast cancer but it's easily and effectively treated with localized surgery and chemotherapy.

Mom is at peace, happy to finally have some answers, and looking forward to her treatment. Everyone is relieved to have at least a partial diagnosis (there are other symptoms caused by something other than the cancer that are being investigated) and it seems almost everyone understands that Mom's life isn't really in danger at the moment. Plus "easily and effectively treated" seems to have sunk into everyone's minds. Everyone except Dad that is.

So my brother David (who lives in Dallas and is the most calm member of the family by far) is flying in on Saturday for a visit that was planned months ago.

My cell phone rang at 4:52 this morning. I didn't recognize the phone number but it had the 972 area code so I correctly assumed it was David.

He wanted to know what was wrong with Mom, that Dad had just called him and said he needed to be here.

As far as I knew, NOTHING was wrong.

So I promised him I'd call Dad and find out what was wrong so I could run to the hospital if need be.

I call Dad, and all he says is "Nothing's wrong, I just need David to be here."

There are tears in his voice. If it wasn't my father in particular, I would swear he was drunk. But no; he's officially entered mental and emotional breakdown land.

I called David back and told him nothing was wrong, other than Dad wanted him to be there because he'd stopped dealing. We determined Dad's guilt complex had caught up with him.

Why? Because Mom hasn't taken a break since David was born 38 years ago. Because she's been trying to get out from under her "temporary secretary" job at the family business for 20 years. It took cancer for her to finally get a real rest.

Oh, and as icing to the guilt cake, Dad and my other brother Tim encouraged her to ignore the symptoms that finally led to her going to the hospital because they thought with exercise her rapidly expanding abdomen would return to normal (turns out it was full of fluid, not fat).

Dad has a ton of actions and inactions he could turn into personal guilt, and Mom isn't there to stop him. So now he's unraveled.

As soon as it's a more reasonable hour I'm calling his pastor.



Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hot time .. not supposed to be summer in the city yet

April 29th, and it was 99 degrees today, at 3% relative humidity.

That's about 10 degrees hotter than our average for the day, and about 15% lower humidity.

Now, 99 is hot; but it's not TOO hard to deal with, thanks to air conditioning.

But the humidity, or rather the lack thereof, is actually a serious problem.

Most people have never been taught what happens to the human body at under 14% or so relative humidity.

See, when the moisture concentration of the surrounding air is so low; the giant sponge that is the human body gives up a lot of that moisture to said ultra dry air.

You can get dehydration and heat stroke sitting still in the shade; and it becomes essentially impossible to not be thirsty, even in the air conditioning, because the simple act of breathing (even through your nose), and opening your mouth, dries you right out.

Days like this I might drink two gallons of fluids (no coffee, and a mixture of fruit juice, diet soda, and water), and I still wont be fully hydrated; and again, that's in the air conditioning.

Your mucous membranes dry out, and your bronchial mucous thickens. You get coughs and sneezes just from the dryness. You also become much more susceptible to infections carried by dust and mold spores. Funny enough, because it’s so dry, (oh and did I mention kinda windy?) the dust and spores are much worse in the air.

Then theres the fact that you’re walking around in your own personal lightning storm from the static electricity; and your skin feels like old paper.

Oh how I so love living in Arizona (not that I'd rather be in this heat, plus humidity).

Birthday Range Day Reportage

Sorry for not posting this yesterday, but I literally fell asleep at the keyboard (ahhh, the luxury of using the laptop in bed).

It was a pretty good birthday I must say. Started the day waking up next to my beautiful wife, and surrounded by our two kids, two dogs, and two cats.

Yes, quiet moments can be rare in our house.

Lounged around for about an hour, until I headed off to shoot with JohnOC, and his uncle visiting down from New Hampshire; who'd only done a little bit of shooting since he let the Navy in the early 70s.

...Oh, and to get my free birthday machine gun rental. I do love my gun club.

I brought out all my 1911s (4 of them, including my wifes little Aegis), my AR (first time shooting it since I changed the buffer type), my wifes Marlin Camp 9 carbine, my mech tech 10mm CCU, and the Valour-IT project SIG P6 (first time shooting all three).

First things first, I chose an HK UMP for my rental, because of the options (mini, micro, or regular UZI, MP5, MP5K, or UMP), it's the only one I haven't fired full auto at least a hundred times. Actually, I've only fired the UMP as a semi before.

If anything, the UMP is even softer shooting than the MP5 (hard as that may be to believe), but it has an odd sort of motion to it; kind of like holding on to the crank case of a single cylinder motorcycle engine while your shooting. I'd say it's because of the high mass bolt at a relatively high cyclic rate; and the low mass of the predominately polymer gun.

At any rate, it's completely controllable in both burst fire, and full auto; and the trigger is quite easy to control; snapping off 2, 3, and 5 round bursts with ease. At 10 yards (the don't let you shoot it out any further because they're worried about idiots unloading a full mag into their ceiling) I was easily making bursts with touching holes. Just like an MP5 in that regard. Really no muzzle climb to speak of, but it did have a kind of odd porpoising; again that same reciprocating mass feel.

Oh, but I will say, the sights aren't near as good as the MP5. Instead of the traditional HK barrel diopter, they've got a blade type rear, that can be flipped over to a LARGE ghost ring. I hated the blade, which was short, and wide, with a big notch; fast to acquire on windage, but elevation was imprecise and slow. The ghost ring was very fast, and I preferred it greatly; but it was so large, that again it was imprecise. With a standard MP5, the sights are just fine out to 50 yards; with these two options I think I would be struggling at 25.

I went through my 3 mags (one is included, and I sprung for two more for myself. John popped for four more split between himself and his uncle) and handed it off to the uncle, who had never fired anything smaller than an M2 full auto before.

Now I should mention, there's something slightly disconcerting about seeing a man who looks near enough like Kenny Rogers (before the freakish mannequin mask plastic surgery), shooting the center out of a mans silouhette with a big'ol shiteatin grin on his face.

After that I moved on to the MechTech CCU. I bought this a few months back as a companion to my 10mm 1911, but I haven't had a chance to shoot it until yesterday.

I love it.

Who would imagine shooting my full house 10mm (180gr at 1250fps) would feel roughly like a .22 magnum.

The only problems I had, were that the sights were way off, and I didnt have the mini allen wrenches necessary with me at the range (I acutally took them out of my bag and forgot ot put them back in); and that it makes a terriffic SPROINNNNNNNNG!!!!!! every time you fire it. If you think an AR has a funny spring noise, shoot a MechTech.

Otherwise though, it's brilliant. I love the thing.... I wonder if those promag drums are as unreliable feeing as they used to be, and if I can make them feed 10mm. I could just sit there feathering the trigger all day long and eating a circle out of the center of the targets (which was essentially what I did.

After burning through 100 rounds with the CCU (no jams, no FTF or FTE, one failure to return to battery on a reload that was remedied by slapping the bolt handle) I popped the upper off, and went back to pistol configuration.

50 rounds of blazer (a friend gave it to me) , and 150 rounds of my full house reloads later, and I love the pistol more than ever; but there was a slight irritation.

Actully two.

First, somehow my sights got bumped; because I was still grouping excellently (touching holes at 10 yards), but my groups were 4" left of my point of aim at 10 yards, and 12" left at 25 yards. I inspected the gun thoroughly, and it wasn't anything mechanical; and it was happening with John, and his uncle as well, so I know it wasn't me.

I'm not sure how that happened exactly, because these things are handfitted so tight it would take a bomb blast to move them; and they look to my eye like they're still properly aligned (as I said, hand fitted to be perfectly even etc... it should be easy to see misalignment). Thankfully the rear is adjustable, so I dont need to go to the mallet, but I'm still kind of irritated.

I swapped over to the 9mm side of things, and fire the wifes Kimber Aegis for the first time as well. What a lovely little gun.

Honestly, I think the Officers Model size 1911 is just about perfect for a carry 9mm (or a .45 for that matter, but some folks find it a bit small for the recoil); and this little gun shoots beautifully. Being so small I shot it at 7 and 10 yards; but it grouped very well (touching holes); and I was able to both doubletap, and rapidly empty the magazine, without any drama.

There are a few things I don't like about it; but they're really a matter of personal preference. They've bobbed the hammer and the safety lever, and it has ultraslim grip panels. All of these are done for a very good reason, to make it easier to carry; and I suppose they do that... I just don't like them. Although I acknowledge there IS less to poke and snag; I don't think the Aegis is significantly easier to carry than my Yost Defender, and the Defender can be hand cocked.

Other than that though, I'd highly recommend one if you're in the market for a small carry gun.

Next up was my wifes Marlin Camp 9 carbine... Man, that thing is a fun little shooter. My hot 9mm reloads felt like .22s out of the little carbine. At 15 yards, I rapid fired an entire 12 rd mag into one inch wide hole.

The only drawback is, the factory sights are just awful. Low profile, tiny, hard to pick up; and yet not precise at all. The 25 yard groups were around 4" off the bench; and I know the gun is capable of much better; it's just the sights were too poor for me to pull it off.

Finally (for the 9s) I went to the P6. I put the new walnut grips on the thing before the trip, and let me tell you they make a HUGE difference in the feel. Worth every penny of the $70 they cost.

What can I say... it's a SIG. It's accurate, comfortable to shoot, and utterly reliable. 10 and 15 yard groups were at or under 2". I didn't shoot it at 25 yards, because I didn't have enough 9 left with me to get used to the gun; and I was more concerned with function than accuracy at the moment. 4 mags through, and everything worked great. Don't worry, I'll do a much more extensive report on the gun later, when I'm done reworking it.

I switched back to my .45 1911s and shot about a hundred rounds off; and everything went as expected. I've been shooting my Yost Champion for near on five years now, and it's the same as it ever was. I've only had the defender for about a year, but at 10 yards it's near as good.

I wanted to finish up the day with a hundred rounds out of the newly repaired AR (more on that in a later post), but it is still misbehaving.

I fixed the problem I was having with the Olympic pneumatic buffer, by replacing it with a better (and much more expensive) one, designed for machine guns; and it works a treat. You get plenty of recoil absorbtion, and plenty of force for operation.

Unfortunately, there must still be some crud in the chamber, and likely in the barrel extension; because I was getting sticky extraction, and some failures to go completely into battery, even with the forward assist. Thats downfall of the AR as a whole really. I'mna have to get in there with solvent and a damn dental pick or something.

That finished up our range trip; so John, the uncle, and I went over to the restaurant across the parking lot. We had a couple of burgers (I actually had the pulled pork; which was pretty good) and a couple beers; and shot the shit for a while (more on that conversation in a later post as well).

I went home and finished decking the subfloor for my shed (yes, it was supposed to be done a few weeks ago. The last few weekends haven't been good), then relaxed and waited for the babysitter.

To finish off the night, Mel and I went to see "Leatherheads" (fun screwball comedy in the mold of Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder), and grabbed dinner at a new Japanese place near the theater.

All in all, a pretty good birthday.

Monday, April 28, 2008

My only comment on reverend Wright

"Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake" - Napoleon Bonaparte

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fear the mad skills

So I'm continuing the seemingly endless process of cleaning up, reorganizing, and categorizing my MP3 collection of about 10,000 or so songs ( but that covers maybe 2,000 dupes, live versions, and alternate versions. Anyone know any good software to find dupes and fix filenames and ID3 tags automagically?). I used to have a hell of a lot more, but a few years ago my brother accidentally deleted my entire collection while attempting (unsuccessfully) to import it into some media player format.

Anyway, in so doing, you have to be listening as well; and I've got a hell of a sound system on my media center PC. Probably better than a lot of folks home theaters in fact (a THX certified Logitech Z-5500 system).

Anyway, I'm cleaning up the rap and hiphop section right now, and I just have to say it. You might not like Rap, but you have got to respect the skills of Eric B & Rakim, KRS-One, Jurassic 5, and the Poor Righteous Teachers.

I'm just groovin it.

Next up, DragonForce.

UPDATE: Dear GOD DragonForce is absolutely staggering played through my home theater.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Broadcom has one of the Biggest Networking Bugs Ever

This is a big one boys and girls; and I guarantee you it can effect your IT infrastructure if you use clustering, nic teaming, and a half a dozen other configurations, with Broadcom gigabit ethernet interfaces.

This is what I've been working on all day the last two days, and will be working on all day every day for the next few weeks, maybe months. If this hasn't hit your shop yet, it will, and you'll be working on it too.

Here's a sanitized version of my incident report on the issue:


Broadcom is a leading vendor of networking chipsets, in the server, appliance, embedded, and network device markets. They are the most common gigabit ethernet chipset used by all classes of device within the organization.


Recently, a critical bug has been discovered in all known implementations of Broadcoms family of gigabit ethernet chipsets; which under certain circumstances causes interfaces which have been configured to proxy ARP (which is used with clustering, teaming and bonding, load balancing and other high availability configurations, and some security related configurations), to respond promiscuously to ARP requests.

This behavior causes network interfaces on other systems within the same broadcast domain (effectively all other devices on the same VLAN) to see degradations in quality of service, packet loss, and can cause complete loss of network communications (systems can get knocked off the network). This problem can also adversely effect the operation of the switches carrying this traffic.


These problems are intermittent, but reproducible, and have been seen in multiple environments within the organization over the past several months.

Because of the nature of ARP, these problems are difficult if not impossible to detect, before services are significantly impacted; and without specific knowledge of this issue, are difficult to diagnose in a timely manner. This issue has appeared intermittently in several environments within the organization, and in each case took several weeks to detect, diagnose, and understand.

Scope of affected infrastructure:

This issue may appear in existing devices when their drivers, or patch level are updated; or in new devices which have not been patched to specifically address this problem.

All subnets which have Broadcom gigabit ethernet chipsets attached, in a proxy ARP configuration, may be effected by this bug (this would constitute the majority of the subnets within the organization). Most major server vendors have issued patches for older revisions of their operating environments which address this problem already, or these patches are in development; however until such time as patches exist and are applied for all systems, the subnets to which these systems are attached may be at risk.

Notably, the most recent patch update of Solaris 10 does not include a fix for this issue (a fix is in development), the most recent paches for Microsoft Windows server 2000, 2003, and 2008 do not include a fix; and IBM has decided that this issue does not present a problem for iSeries systems, even though they may use the effected chipsets in a proxy ARP for some adapaters (though they have, or will, for the X series and p series).

Mitigation and/or Resolution:

At this time no definitive resolution exists for this issue; however, the following means of mitigation are available to us:

  • Do not add any new systems or devices using Broadcom gigabit ethernet chipsets and configured for proxy ARP, until those systems have been properly patched
  • Do not update operating systems or patch levels on existing systems or devices using those chipsets and configured for proxy ARP, (even if the devices in question have not yet demonstrated the problem), until those systems have been properly patched for this specific issue.
  • Identify all systems and devices which have these chipsets, and target them for specific patching to resolve this issue before it can occur
  • Segregate critical infrastructure onto controlled broadcast domains by creating private VLANs (this presents extremely significant difficulties; to the point of effective impossibility for many environments); to prevent systems exhibiting the issue from impacting those environments
  • Remove or segregate from the public network segments, any systems or devices which have these chipsets, and are configured for proxy ARP; and which have not yet been patched, or for which a patch does not yet exist (even if the devices in question have not yet exhibited the issue
Other methods of mitigation may arise, or be developed; as this issue is worked further.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Job News

Well, as most of you know, I've been on the same contract for just over two years now; and by rule, my contract can't be extended anymore.

The position was always intended as a contract to hire gig, but we've had three major re-orgs, including one total shakeup from COO to mailboy; and I personally have had six different "managers" in the 25 months I have been with the company. Because of this, the "to hire" part has been repeatedly put off.

Technically, they've been trying to convert me from contract to FTE since the first six month end date on my contract, but they could never get approval. In fact, they could never even get a grade assigned for me, which is first step of the "final stage" of getting approval as it were.

Of course, as with most large companies, your grade determines the salary range you're eligible for, as well as your benefits package etc...

Well, I just had that grading discussion with my boss, and it went VERY well.

There are six grading levels for my position, and I was intially brought in at a grade 5 equivalent, the second highest level. In the discussion with my boss, we both agreed with no argument, that I was actually at the highest grade, both by my job description, and by my job performance.

That makes a HUGE (as in $35,000) difference in salary range.

By rule, when you're first hired on FTE, they have to bring you in at the midpoint of the range or below; and it's a VERY broad range (as in a $160,000 difference between lowest base, and highest max), based on experience, performance, and the cost of living in your geographic area.

Broadly speaking, the Phoenix is right in the middle of their COLA regions. In fact, the mid-point of the range for my geographic area, is almost exactly the midpoint between the lowest base, and the highest max.

So anyway, basically they have to bring me in at between 5% and 10% below the midpoint for my region, or the justification fight is much harder. It just so happens, that was exactly what I was expecting, and I'm perfectly happy with it. Yes, it means about a $20,000 pay cut from my contract; but the vacation time and benefits are worth $20k.

What are the benefits? Roughly speaking, 15 days paid vacation to start, plus two additional days per year of service up to the maximum of 20 days, plus 6 federal and 5 company holidays, and two personal days per quarter; 401k with 100% matching, up to 6%; full family medical, dental, and optical, with HSA and FSA, and a 10% employee contribution; ESPP at 5% below market; and preferred credit terms with the company bank. Oh and all the little ancillaries that don't really matter to me like counsellings services, and employee resource centers and the like.

The good news in all that is that the TOP of my range, is about $40k above what I'm making now; and if I evaluate as a top performer (top 10% of employees at my level), which I would easily do, I can reach the top of that range in five years.

Oh and I'm in a grade with a 15% bonus; and in our worst year of the last 20 (last year as it happens) we still paid out 85% of our bonuses.

So, presuming I perform well, and the company performs well, it's no real pay cut at all, and within two years, I'll be making more than I do today even with no bonus whatsoever.

That's nice, because as a contractor you don't really get raises unless you renegotiate or change contracts. I was already at the top rate for contractors within the company, and because of the way the contract is structured, the contracting company wasn't going to take any less of that than they already were; so renegotiation was out, and to get a raise I'd have to change contracts.

Objectively speaking, I've been making less money every year, because of inflation. Now I'll be making more money each year; which is the way I think things should be wot?

Now, here's the fun part. My division is currently paying about $50,000 a year more than I make today to my contract company (actually technically I'm a sub contractor, to a contracting company, to a contract aggregator; so there are two hands in the pie above me), plus associated overhead.

The complication is, my division is a recoverable cost center, which means we charge out for my services to the rest of the company; and as a contractor they are required to recover 80% of my direct costs to the company, in cross charges.

The problem is, my position is so senior, and I do so much foundation level work which isn't recoverable to a specific project, that they're actually only recovering about 20% of my time right now. By hiring me on as an FTE, they are going to end up paying me directly, about $75,000 less than they are currently paying the contracting company; and they'll no longer have to recover that 80%, they only have to recover the actual time I spend on recoverable projects.

A typical employees salary is about 60% of their actual cost to an organization; but I telecommute, and don't have an office, which cuts the cost to the organization down even more.

So by hiring me, in absolute terms (including overhead) they'll at most, only be paying a few thousand more including benefits etc... (and I think in real terms it will be a few thousand less) for my services than they are today; and in budgetary terms they're going to take a budget hit of about 40% less.

This is the way the corporate world works folks. It makes no sense whatsoever to anyone but the bean counters.

At any rate, my boss is now sure he can proceed with getting final approval to convert me to FTE; and that the justification he presents should be sufficient to get approval. There's still the approval process and red tape to get through, but at least we're at the gates.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Too slammed today, come back tomorrow

Mother in law is in the hospital, and it's more serious than we thought. Mel has been with her all day the last two days. Thankfully the hospital has wifi so we can at least keep in touch easier; and she can have some kind of interaction with the world.

Work is at near nightmare level at the moment.

House is complete chaos.

Come back later when I have some sanity back.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Shooting on the Double

Kevin Baker is a friend of mine down in Tucson, and a great writer, blogger, and gunny. I'd say hes a great guy too, and I think he is, in fact I know few better men; but he's the first to acknowledge he takes some getting used to.

...Well, so do I; and besides, I don't rank my friends by their social quirks. Let's just say if you ever get the chance to hang out with Kevin, take it; but be prepared for him to be a bit... cantankerous is maybe the best term?

I'd guess most of my readers know him as the proprietor of "The Smallest Minority". If you DON'T read him already, you should... though to warn you, he and I are the top two contestants in the "most ridiculously long blog post" competition on a regular basis.

Recently, Kevin decided to get involved with the very active local competitive practical shooting scene down here; here meaning south and central Arizona that is. There are several leagues, and most gun clubs run events; plus we're home to some of the best shooters in the sport, like Rob Leatham, Brian Enos (semi-retired), and Matt Burkett.

I think everyone should try "practical shooting competition" (IDPA, IPSC/USPSA, GSSF etc...) at least once by the by. Even if you think the games are silly, they're good practice shooting on the move, from cover, and from positions you normally wouldn't get into on the range. The real world is mostly constructed of and populated by things other than shooting benches; and IPSC and IDPA help you to practice for that. Besides, they're just great fun.

'Course, I'm one of those folks who DOES get irritated with the "gamey-ness" of IPSC style competition (IPSC stands for the "International Practical Shooting Confederation; a group of affiliated international shooting organizations, of which the US affiliate is the USPSA - United States Practical Shooting Association); so, though I've tried it, and it IS great fun and good practice, I've never done much with it (though I'm thinking I'd really like to try three gun. It's like the pistol competition, but you've got pistol, rifle, and shotgun all in one).

I have done a fair bit of shooting with the IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) however; because it is less game-like and far more defensively oriented... or at least it was. It will never reach the level of IPSC in terms of scenarios because of the way the rules are written; but over time (and as the prizes for winning get bigger) it too is becoming less practical and more spectacle.

It's kind of like how NASCAR started out with people racing their 'shine runner cars, then got to the factory "specials", and finally evolved into cars having nothing to do with the street. Both IPSC and IDPA started out as practical defensive shooting oriented competitons, with stock guns; and are evolving into highly stylized scenarios with highly specialized (and expensive) weapons... though much less so with IDPA, at least thus far; because the rules are written to discourage that from happening, and because IPSC has a 25 year head start.

All that said, I'm planning on getting back into IDPA, and maybe trying three gun with IPSC; because even for all my criticisms, it is still great practice and great fun. Even better, Mel wants to try shooting IDPA in the backup gun category with her little 3" carry guns (one of the things I love about IDPA is their secondary classes for revolvers, backup guns etc...).

Oh and it may be a game, but don't discount the skills and experience engendered by that game. I wouldn't want to be the man having to face an IPSC master class shooter in a gunfight. This famous clip from Miami Vice show's what an IPSC grandmaster shooter can do:

That isn't some hollywood trick. The "hitman" here is Jim Zubiena, an IPSC grandmaster, and movie stuntman. Zubiena actually re-wrote the scene with the director; because the director didn't understand (or frankly, believe) what Zubiena could do, until he saw it for himself.

For those of us familiar with IPSC competition, the scene is quite a fun inside joke, because Zubiena set it up just like a stage in a shoot...

Oh and also note, the sound guy who dubbed in the gunshot sounds is slower than the shooter. Zubiena shot a controlled pair, then a single (a Mozambique), in less time than the Foley sound for two gunshots took (gunshot sounds are faked on film because they don't sound "right").

So, the whole point of IPSC and IDPA shooting is combining speed with accuracy. A good competitor has to embody the Earp maxim "Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You gotta’ learn to shoot slow…in a hurry".

Matches are shot in timed stages, each stage consisting of several different targets that will require you to move, shoot, reload, seek cover, and otherwise do things that would slow you down, and hinder your accuracy. Your time is factored in, and the longer you take, the worse you score. There are also penalties for various errors and procedural violations.

This is the general form of the targets you shoot at in IPSC:

The scoring is measured by zones; with the "A" zone giving the best score, and the outer zones being progressively worse.

The different stages in a competition may have different shot strings required to "neutralize" a target. For example, you may need to put two or even four (though that's rare) shots into a single target, or you will get points off (or even a failure for the stage) for a "failure to stop" or "failure to neutralize" etc...

Additionally, many stages will specify that hits in the D zone are not counted towards that total. In fact some stages may require that only "A" zone hits count, or even specify that hit's outside the "A" zone are a penalty. They may also cover up some of the target with a painted "hostage" silhouette; which if you hit, you get a penalty (usually a no-score, or the worst possible score on the stage; depending on which scoring model you use). Also some stages may put their targets in "body armor" (usually a t-shirt actually) and require more shots, or head shots, to neutralize.

That scoring per target, is spread across as many as 15 targets in a single stage, with as many as 4 reloads required; though that's uncommon (certain classes have magazine capacity limitations, and most stages only require a maximum of two reloads). The target count is usually limited to somewhere between two and eight for local competitions, because longer courses are more complex to set up, shoot, and score.

Importantly, you are being watched by a timer and referee at all times, to make sure you don't commit any scoring or procedural violations or safety infractions; which can have penalties from adding a few seconds to your time or docking a few points, all the way up to disqualification from an entire multi-day competition.

Oh and as I said, it's all on the clock. Every fraction of a second counts.

Please note that I am generalizing greatly here, as I'm trying to relate in a general way several different shooting organizations procedures; as well as reflect local variations. A lot of my readers are IPSC and IDPA shooters and will note the differences.

A "typical" stage at a local practical shooting competition might look a little something like this:
1. Start with your hands up in "surrender position" (as Mr. Zubiena was in the video above) , gun concealed, ready, in your holster, with no more than 10 rounds loaded; standing in a "shooting box" (an area, usually a square, you must stand in to shoot; for safety reasons) , with some kind of partial cover in front of you (a 55 gallon barrel).

Six feet in front of you and three feet to your left; there is a wall with a chest high window, three feet of wall, a doorway, three feet of wall, another doorway, three feet of wall, and then another window.

You can see one of your targets through the window from your starting position (the one you are "surrendering" to), and the edge of a hostage silhouette through the window.

2. When the buzzer sounds, draw from concealment and engage the target you can see through the window with two shots to neutralize. The target is partially covered by a hostage silhouette, and D zone hits do not count.

3. Move from your position to the shooting box in between the first window and doorway, engage one with two shots required to neutralize. The target is partially covered by a hostage silhouette, and D zone hits do not count.

4. From partial cover behind the first doorway, while remaining in the shooting box (lean around the edge of the door), engage two targets with two shots each required to neutralize. Targets are partially covered by hostage silhouettes, and D zone hits do not count.

5. Run across the two open doorways to the other shooting box, between the other window and door. Your head must be no higher than the height of the windowsills while crossing the doorways or you will incur a cover penalty.

6. Reload a magazine containing no more than 10 rounds, from cover, inside a shooting box (some competitions allow reload on the run, some don't). You may choose to reload either before, or after, you run across the doorways.

7. From partial cover inside the shooting box, engage two targets through the doorway, with two shots each required to neutralize. Targets are partially covered by hostage silhouettes, and D zone hits do not count.

8. From partial cover inside the shooting box, engage two targets through the window. The first target is not obscured, and requires two shots to neutralize. The second target is obscured by two hostages, covering the entire C and D zones, is wearing body armor; and requires three hits to neutralize, at least one of which MUST be inside the head area.

9. When your last shot is fired, unload your weapon, show clear, and holster it.

10. At all times you must engage targets in a logical order, nearest threat first. Failure to do so will result in a procedural penalty.

Any hostage hit will result in a DNF (did not finish) and maximum score penalty for the stage.

A failure to neutralize will result in a maximum score penalty for that target.

You must maintain cover at all times that you are not shooting, or moving between shooting boxes. You must maintain partial cover while shooting; and while moving you cannot be exposed for more than 3 seconds. Failure to maintain cover will result in a DNF and maximum score penalty for the stage.
Breaking it down; you're firing two shots on one target, moving to another box and firing two shots an the second target, repositioning and firing 4 more shots on the third and fourth targets. That's 8 shots, and presuming you're shooting a standard 1911 in a limited class (some classes allow protruding magazines, some do not), your mag is empty, and you may or may not have one up the tube.

Next you reload, and move (or move and reload), fire four more shots on targets 5 and 6, reposition, and fire two shots on target 7, and three on a target 8, one of which must be a headshot.

A total of 17 shots, on 8 targets, one reload, two major movements, and five different shooting positions.

Sound hard?

Well, that's because it is. It's a difficult enough skill to accomplish while you're standing still, never mind moving from cover to cover, reloading, and avoiding "hostages"; all under a clock.

The very best shooters in the world may be able to perform a scenario like I described above in 10-11 seconds, while scoring all "A" zone hits; or trade speed for accuracy, and drop a couple of C hits, to drop a second or two. The time difference on top competitors in the same class will often be down to fractions of a second; and to be competitive at all at the top levels, you certainly can't be more than a second or two off the pace.

Here's a video of Dave Sevigny, two time national champion, doing just that; on a similar stage to the one I just described; 17 shots on 8 targets in 9 seconds (with a running reload, which cuts about a second off your time).

I'm referring to the first stage in the video by the way. He shoots a couple of much more complicated stages after that:

A "mere mortal" who is simply good, and well practiced, might be able to that same stage the grand champion shoots in 10 seconds(the one I described that is, not the one Dave is running); in as little as 12 seconds, but more probably somewhere from 14-18 seconds. That would be a more realistic time from a decent competitor in a local or regional match. The spread of times in those classes is a lot wider as well, varying maybe as much as 4-6 seconds in between competitive shooters (and presuming no penalties).

A good shooter, who has never run a course like that before, but who has walked through it to prepare; and has practiced drawing and firing, and reloading quickly; might do it in 20-25 or so seconds.

Here's a video of few friends of mine casually shooting a similar stage, though with half as many targets, and starting from "low ready" (your gun in your hand, and pointed at the ground in front of you - another common starting position).

The action starts at about 1:30 in.

You can see that they can comfortably shoot the 8 shot string in anywhere from 5-8 seconds, without rushing.

Let's extrapolate that to my theoretical stage. First, double their time for double the number of targets. Then add in 2 seconds to draw, 2 seconds for movement and a mag change, and an extra 2 seconds to account for slowing down to make sure you don't get penalties on the obscured targets (if they were master class shooters it would be more like 1.5 seconds added total rather than 6).

Put that all together, and you get... 16-22 seconds; which matches up with their respective skill and experience levels. Robb and Combat are both experienced practical shooters, but do not actively compete. Kim, the narrator, is a very good shot, but doesn't do much practical or action shooting.

So it's not easy, but it's not very hard to do it at the most basic level either. The hard part is do it it accurately, and quickly, at the same time.

Most folks can manage to do it accurately with enough practice; after all we're generally talking about distances of 15 yards or less, and in some stages maybe as short as few feet.

Where most folks fall down, is on the speed. Either they try to go too fast, and they lose their accuracy, and make mistakes; or they have to (or feel they have to; which amounts to the same thing) slow down too much to make sure they put the hits where they need to be.

It's the Earp Maxim (as in Wyatt) again... go slow, but in a hurry.

This is where we get back to Kevin... or to Kim for that matter. Both have trouble being accurate and fast with two shots per target. Their first shot tends to be pretty good, but their followup is either place poorly, or placed slowly; either of which will lose you the competition (not a good thing on the street either).

Ok, first things first, you MUST be accurate. Accuracy is defined in this context as the ability to put a bullet where you want it to go, with as little deviation as possible. You can't miss fast enough to win; either on the range, or on the street.

Second, you have to understand what accuracy is in this context. In fact, context is everything when it comes to this subject.

In target shooting, accuracy is measured in fractions of an inch. Poor performance is a 4" group at 7 yards... or hell a 2" group at 7 yards (actually, in most forms of competitive target pistol shooting, 2" at 25 yards would be poor).

In practical shooting, things are a bit different. The "A" zone (which to be completely politically incorrect, but truthful - the shooting organizations don't like to talk about it this way because it makes the anti-gun people go insane) is meant to approximate the lethal zone around center mass on an adult male. It's about 6" wide and 10" high (it varies between shooting organizations), right in the middle of the thing; and that's where you need to group to score well.

Not coincidentally, shooting a living assailant in that same area is likely to produce a "good score" as well.

At any rate, scoring well in practical shooting isn't about those fractions of an inch. Adjust your expectations to match the parameters of the exercise. Anyone can learn to group their shots into a 6x10 oval if they're taking their time.

Now that doesn't mean you don't have to aim, or can ignore accuracy entirely. There's a basic principle, "aim big, miss big; aim small, miss small".

In practical shooting terms, that means if you're trying for very fine accuracy and don't quite make it, you aren't going to be too far off, and you'll still score well; but if you are just trying to get the minimum accuracy you need, and don't quite make it, well, you've missed by a fair margin, and you're outside the scoring zone.

Aim small, miss small.

Once you are confident that you can put the bullets in the zone, THEN you concentrate on getting faster.

Now, down to the specific case mentioned by both Kim and Kevin: two shot strings, which Kim referred to as a "doubletap", and Kevin referred to as his "splits".

Technically Kevin is correct there; at least as far as practical shooting competition is concerned. In competition, you aren't actually going for a true doubletap as such; but putting two rapid shots on target is the most fundamental shooting challenge in practical shooting. Almost all practical shooting competitions require you to do so on almost every target.

Ok, so why isn't a "doubletap" correct?

With a rapid fire doubletap, what you're trying to do is aim at the bottom of the A zone, control the muzzle rise (note, not the flip, the rise. Two different things.); and reset the trigger, then fire the second shot before that rise takes you out of the A zone (if you really know what you're doing, you can use that momentum from the second shot to carry your aim to the next target).

It's all one motion, and you only aim once; with your muscle control dedicated to keeping the pistol in control and on line as it rises straight and smooth.

The ideal doubletap should have two holes, separated by less than 2 inches, with the second hole slightly offset to the right for right handed shooters.

In this, grip and stance are absolutely critical. To do it right, you have to have them both damn near perfect; but it's certainly do-able. In fact Kevin (and everyone else for that matter) has seen me doing it at the gun blogger rendezvous (actually he's shot next to me and commented on how fast I was doubltapping, and how he was irritated by how slow he was).

It's very fast, and it's very effective for a defensive shooter; though it's not the most accurate technique. With practice, and the right gun, you may be able to get touching holes; but when you're that focused on grouping the tight (which in this case means making that second shot VERY fast), your placement tends to suffer a bit.

The thing is, doubletaps are a great technique in personal defensive shooting; but they aren't a great idea in competition.

The problem with a true doubletap, is that it's very difficult to be consistent, especially with a major power factor load. It's very easy to come off line or to allow the gun to rise too far, and end up with a B or C zone second shot. Even expert competitors who use the technique do it all the time, and just eat the C hits; accepting the small accuracy penalty for the small increase in speed.

A controlled pair is a little different.

Often you will see people, even instructors; use these terms interchangeably, but that is incorrect. They are two distinct techniques; and they produce two distinct results.

Most folks who say they are the same thing, think that it is so because they are only capable of performing one of them, and don't understand how the other one works (either way). Some ARE able to do both, and simply deprecate or dismiss one or the other.

Many instructors I know for example (most of the IPSC/IDPA types) are dead set against a true doubletap; for all the reasons I mention above. Others (generally the "combat shooting" types) think that since the doubletap is faster, and just as effective in a real combat situation, you shouldn't bother with the controlled pair.

I think they're both wrong; there are times and situations where either technique is appropriate; and practicing one will help you to become better at the other.

At any rate, the difference is simple in concept, but profound in execution and effect.

In a doubletap, you reset the trigger for the second shot; but not the gun. With a controlled pair, you reset the whole gun.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Not so much...

When you shoot a controlled pair, you start off the same way as with a doubletap. Set your grip and stance, and aim just above the bottom of your target zone; then fire. From there, everything changes.

When you fire a doubletap, all your efforts are to keep the gun in line vertically, without rising too much; while pressing the trigger as quickly as possible for the second shot. A doubletap should sound like a heartbeat; as if the two shots were "connected" to each other.

With a controlled pair, you reset the whole gun. When you establish your stance and grip, you want to set in your mind a "reset point" and a "flash sight picture". You are still concentrating your efforts on keeping the gun in line, and the recoil controlled; but you are NOT trying to fire a second shot before the muzzle rises too far. You let the muzzle rise, then pull it down again locking into your reset point and flash sight picture, before tripping off the second shot; and it is clear there are two distinct shots.

Yes, it's slower, but it's more accurate. More importantly, it's far more consistent; because it's far less dependent on perfect recoil and trigger control, and more on focus, technique, and practice. Not everyone can be accurate with doubletaps all the time (and even an expert wont be as accurate as with a controlled pair); but with training and practice, any reasonably decent shooter can get accurate with controlled pairs, all the time.

To illustrate what I'm talking about, go back to the Zubiena video above, and watch the slow motion section. You can see that Zubenia is resetting the gun to the exact position he started in; same angle, etc... in between shots. This is a controlled pair.

If he was doubletapping you would see one shot, a little muzzle flip brought down by good grip, a very slight raising of the arms, and then another shot; much faster than with the controlled pair.

An ideal controlled pair, when you aren't on the timer, should have two bullets through the same large and ragged hole, or through two touching holes; and very good shooters can do that quite frequently.

'Course, if you do that in competition, you're going slower than you need to be to shoot well enough to score. You've only got half the Earp maxim going. You've got the "slow down" part, but not the "in a hurry".

Once you've got your shot placement to where you want it with a controlled pair; and it's ingrained into muscle memory (it takes somewhere around 5000 repetitions just to begin to set an instinct level muscle memory, and from 20,000 to 30,000 repetitions to have it fully ingrained); that's where you can REALLY start to get fast.

At that point you aren't THINKING about your reset position and flash sight picture, it's automatic; and you can go just as fast as the gun, and your body will let you.

Here's a video of Jerry Miculek, multiple IPSC and IDPA championship winner, and the worlds fastest shooter; showing you just exactly how fast that is:

Jerry uses a revolver, because he is able to manually pull the trigger and rotate the cylinder, faster than a semi-automatic pistol can cycle.

Now maybe one in 10 million can reach the level of Jerry Miculek; but anyone can develop the "hard reset to flash sight picture" muscle memory.

Until you reach that point however, you WILL have to think about it; and that's what makes the difference between someone who can clear the course clean (all A zone hits and no penalties) in 9 seconds , and someone who clears it in 14 seconds.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mel's Day

8:25 am - wake up to the sound of the house phone ringing. Take phone from Chris; accidentally hang up.

8:26 am - my cell phone rings. It's my father. My mother is in the hospital with severe abdominal pain. They live in a rural area, they went to the closest GOOD hospital which is on the outskirts of the Phoenix metroplex. 1 hour's drive for them, 30 minutes coming from the other direction for me. Would I please go check on her? Sure, of course. My dad mumbles something about having to work on an airplane, and hangs up. I recognize the signs of "Dad can't cope and therefore turns to his work" disorder, and determine that I'm probably going to have to handle the whole situation.

8:29 am - call hospital and get patched through to my mom's room. No answer. Dad hasn't completely gone to pieces though, so she's probably ok. Given the sketchy information that Dad gave me, I decide to go to the hospital and find out for myself.

9:30 am - having showered, dressed, done a few necessary household chores, and made my goddamn coffee (very necessary considering Chris's birthday party was last night) I finally leave for the hospital.

10:00 am - holy shit, there's a hospital there now. I used to live a mile and a half away, and that wasn't there two years ago. I guess all of the transplants to the outer edges of the suburbs increased the demand enough to warrant a real hospital there.

10:05 am - make it to my mom's room and find her alive and morhpined all to hell. No answers from the doctors yet, but she's stable and no longer in pain. She's happy to see me because she's BORED. I look around and determine that Dad was not thinking clearly - they brought nothing with her. I pull out the magazines and books I had brought to keep her distracted.

10:08 am - I start calling all of the pertinent family members, starting with Chris, and average one family member every 2 minutes. The only person I don't reach immediately is my brother Mark, who pre-screens his calls using the answering machine.

10:32 am - Mark calls back and keeps my mother on the phone for 8 minutes. His wife is home from the hospital with their 3 day old baby (their 4th child) and it doesn't look like our mom is coming to visit any time soon. Once back on the phone with me, Mark mentions that Dad is trying to call him.

10:41 am - realize that Dad is worse off than I thought if it finally occurred to him to call family members. About to call him when the nurse comes in and increases Mom's morphine drip.

10:51 am - call Dad back. He wants to know if there's any news yet. No news, no new tests. He goes back to work. I realize what time it is and that he should be in church. Dad's not-able-to-cope meter is fully pegged.

1:00 pm - after sticking around a few hours and determining that no tests will be forthcoming, and that my mom needs to rest, I decide to head home.

5:00 pm - I call to check on my mom. She's fine, she's trying to eat and the morphine is working. Now it's definite that tests will not be done until the morning, so they have no idea where the fluid in her abdomen is coming from. I think about going to visit her again, and then realize that she has morphine, people cooking for her, and nurses taking care of her every need. Dad can't ask her to come in to help him at the business. No one is bugging her, and it seems like I'm the only one who has figured out she has a phone in her room. This is the first real break she's had in decades. I tell her I'll be there in the morning instead.

5:03 pm - Dad calls me to find out what's going on. "Is she still sick?" "Yes, Dad." "Okay, I'm going back to work."

7:00 pm - have a gut feeling that Dad is probably worse off than I thought. Realize that bible study should be over by now. I call the hostess of the bible study (and queen church lady) and verify that yes indeed, he missed tonight's session. Not only that, but he did show up for church - for about 5 minutes, to tell everyone my mom was in the hospital. Then he was "off to work". Quickly extrapolate that he probably forgot to eat or do anything other than work. I am officially more worried about my father than my mother. I ask Mrs. Cain to check in on him and make sure he ate something; I'm pretty sure my mother will be in the hospital tomorrow night too. "It sounds like he needs our prayers just as much as your mom" she says. "Probably more" I reply. By the end of the call she's busy arranging a coalition of church ladies to make sure he gets fed. He'll probably gain ten pounds by the end of the week.



Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Lifetime of a Man

233 years ago on this day, the first American was born; not of the union of man and woman, but of the tyranny of a distant king, and the will of men to be free.

On that day, an unknown soldier fired a single shot; and in so doing, declared himself a free man, and a citizen; no longer subject to any but himself, and to God.

It was 14 long and hard years between that shot, and the realization of the American republic; conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.

Still, something was not right. All men were indeed created equal; but some were considered less than a man by their position in society, or the situation of their birth; and they were subject to tyranny from other men.

It was 71 years more, to the day in fact; that the nation born of free men, began to make ALL within it free. It took five years; the hardest and bloodiest years the nation has ever seen; to realize that freedom.

But it was complete. We were all free men, subject to none but ourselves, and to God.

90 years...

In the lifetime of a man, a nation was born, passed through adolescence, and finally stood as a man does; truly declaring that all men were created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; and that among them were the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Never before has such a thing been done; and most likely never again.

Value it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Valour-IT Project Gun - Chapter 1

Well, the first step in my restoration and upgrade of a West German Police (in service date of 1979) SIG-Sauer P6 (A.K.A. p225 for the American Commercial market) has been accomplished.

I managed to snag a set of these grips off eBay for the relatively reasonable amount of $78 plus $5 shipping:

Yes, that is relatively reasonable for grips for this gun; and besides they are really nice looking walnut.

The next step will be to acquire a short trigger (trust me, it GREATLY improves the feel, and the reach, even for big handed guys like me), and a lighter hammer spring. The factory spring is 21 lbs, and is completely unnecessary. You can go down to 17lbs without any issue in reliability; and again, greatly improve the trigger feel.

Now I want input from my readers, and importantly my potential bidders, on what kind of sights to install.

My thoughts are as follows:

XS Express Sight

XS BigDot

TruGlo BrightSight (these are cool, because they use both tritium and fiber optic)

Heine Straight 8

Standard Trijicons

or Meprolights

Note: all are night sights, keeping with my general philosophy on defensive pistols. Really, they're all good choices, just a matter of preference.

Next decision, what to refinish it with, and what colors. Wheee, it's like Barbie for gunnies.


Well, I just looked over at my sitemeter, and noted that I passed 1,250,000 unique visits a few days ago (and just under 1.7 million page views as of just now).

From our first post on February 14th, 2005; until our millionth unique took 2 years, 8 months, and 10 days.

We've made it 1/4 of the way again beyond that, in a week shy of six months.

Glad y'all keep reading what we keep writing.

Oh, how I wish...

... that the words "shut up you little idiot", were in Jaynes vocabulary.

Note the time stamp on this post.

Mac, being a much older and wiser dog, has learned to differentiate between someone climbing over the back fence; and the chihuahua two streets over barking at it's neighbor. Jayne, being just 9 months old (actually, two weeks shy of that... wow... has it been that long already?) has, unfortunately, not.

And of course, he still has the brains of a puppy, but the body of a full grown dog (90 lbs and growing; and already taller and longer then Mac). That of course also means he has the BARK of a full grown dog.

... which if you haven't experienced it, is quite disconcerting when exercised straight into your ear at 2:28am.

At least I know to ignore it when Mac isn't joining in. He's pretty much 100% reliable alerting on people coming onto the property; and almost never alerting on anything else.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 25 - That's a Spicy Polpette

Ok, I know it's kinda cheating following up my meatloaf recipe with polpettes the very next day; but hey, they ARE different. Besides, after mentioning them at the end of the meatloaf post, I've had a couple folks ask me... well, first of all, what the hell polpettes are; but also for the recipe.

OK, first things first, polpettes are meatballs.... Though probably not like the meatballs most of you are used to, given the fact that most of my readers don't live in Italy, New York, Chicago, or Boston.

It seems that in most of America, a meatball is a little round piece of ground meat, stewed in a thin and sweet tomato sauce... or worse, a mixture of canned beef gravy and grape jelly.

To my mind, that's not a meatball... that's an abomination... but apparently I am in the minority; so I use the term polpette to differentiate from that midwestern meat based nightmare.

So, what makes it different? Well, how about "it has flavor"...

Ok, seriously, the biggest difference is size. Polpettes are intended to be served either as an appetizer with one split between two people; or as a main dish, at most four to a plate in an entree for two. These aren't little bite sized globules; they're serious hunks of meat and seasoning.

Oh, but there is a little version (mostly used in soups and stews) usually called a polpettini; and it's typically a ball about an inch across, and not as crusty as a standard polpette. Be careful ordering it in a restaurant if you see it though; because in some areas of Italy, polpettini is what they call individual sized meatloafs.

Now I just mentioned the second difference in the preceeding paragraph, and that is the texture and mouthfeel.

While the standard American meatball is generally pretty uniform, and often a little spongy in texture; a proper polpette should have a contrast between a crunchy exterior, and a smoothly chewy interior, with an unctuous mouth feel.

Now, I've already mentioned meatloaf a couple times, and I'm going to a few more. That's because, although they are in detail quite different; meatloaf and polpette are grossly similar. They are both made from a mixture of ground meat, seasonings, and binding agents; and the first half of the prep work for each is virtually identical.

The cooking though, that is VERY different; and in the end, a good polpette only resembles a meatloaf in taste, as much as any two ground meat based dishes should.

Speaking of cooking technique, a proper polpette is never stewed in "marinara" sauce (we'll talk about how bad most so called marinara is across America another day). It is served either on top of the sauce, with no sauce at all, or in some cases with the sauce baked on over the top of it.

After all, you wouldn't want to lose the meaty, savory flavor of the meatball; or the lovely texture...

...Unless of course your meatballs were small, flavorless, spongy, and greasy; in which case stewing it in tomato and corn syrup flavored water makes perfect sense... At least it's not from a can right?

Ok, I think I've insulted moms across America from the 50's til today enough now; and certainly I've clearly expressed my distaste for bad meatballs. Time to put up or shut up, and show you how to make good ones.

2 pounds, 85% lean ground beef
1 pound extra lean ground pork
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground veal
5 eggs
4 oz unsweetened tomato paste
2 oz balsamic vinegar
2oz extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves fresh garlic, crushed and minced

Fresh6 tblsp fresh basil, minced
6 tblsp fresh oregano, minced
2 tblsp fresh parsley, minced
2 tblsp fresh sage, minced
1 tblsp toasted fennel seed (buy it and toast it fresh)

Fresh (optional)
1 extra large sweet onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine

Dry5 cups breadcrumbs or cracker meal (make your own, or buy decent, not tubed)
8 oz aged parmagiana cheese
8 oz aged Pecorino Romano cheese
6 tblsp black pepper
4 tblsp ground fennel seed
4 tblsp cayenne pepper
2 tblsp ground hot mustard
2 tblsp smoked paprika
2 tblsp onion powder
You're going to need a large skillet; preferably a very thick and heavy one, because you're going to need to have a medium high, controlled heat here.

It's very important to have as large a skillet as you can maintain consistent heat in with your burner; because each meatball needs room to cook, and there's going to be a LOT of them.

Now, assemble your "wet" ingredients, along with the fresh seasoning (and veggies if you're adding them), excepting four cloves of garlic (which well use in the pan later).

As with meatloaf, the most important part of a polpette, is obviously the meat. As I said above, most American meatballs are just little hunks of indifferent quality ground beef. For a good polpette though, you have to think bigger, and better.

Now, I said in my meatloaf recipe that "I like the three meat loaf; lamb, pork, and beef. Turkey just doesn't have the right texture, and the loaf ends up dry with it; and I personally don't like veal that much (the traditional 4th meat for making Italian meatballs)"

It's true, for meatloaf, I don't like veal; but for polpette, I think it's necessary. Or rather what veal brings to the table is necessary.Veal has a very high proportion of gelatin, and tender fatty tissues; and that gives meatballs made with it a smoother, and more filling and "creamy" mouth feel. So you need to boost the fat content, and the gelatin content. You can do that with your choice of pork and beef cuts, or by boosting the fat and gelatin directly (by adding soft fat and gelatin).

That's what is meant by unctuous by the way; it's the feeling that your mouth is being caressed by silky and tasty fat

With the beef itself though, it's important that don't go too lean; or you'll end up with a dry, grainy meatball, that will just crumble. On the other hand, don't go too fatty, or you'll end up with a greasy, loose, and "runny" piece of unpleasantness. 85% lean is just about right for meatballs.

The hardest part of doing this whole thing, is mixing the rather large amount of meat, thoroughly, with the wet and dry ingredients.

For a good meatball, you really want to have a very fine structure to the ground meat. I find that working the meat thoroughly with your hands as you mix is the best method for this; but don't work it too much, or you end up with little hockey pucks when you cook.

You should still be able to see a structure to the grind, it should just be in very small pieces; and remember don't mix it all the way down to that fineness right now, because you still have the dry ingredients to incorporate.

Whatever you do, don't use a blender (yes, my mother used to use a blender, and quaker oats, in her meatballs. I've told you before, she's an awful cook), or a food processor; or once again, hockey pucks.

Oh and If you're going to add the onions and peppers, sweat them a bit just to take the crunch down and convert a little of the sugar; then mix them (and their pan runoff) in with the wet ingredients

Mix the remaining fresh and dry ingredients together, reserve 2 cups of the mixture; and then combine thoroughly with the wet ingredients, bringing the texture down to the level of fineness previously discussed.

Now, the wetter you mix your meat, the dryer the balls will be when cooked; and the dryer you mix it, the juicier.

This is because fat and moisture will tend to cook out of very wet balls very quickly, leaving the meat underdone. By the time the meat is fully cooked, the polpette would be both dry, and greasy, at the same time. You also want the ball to be dry enough to form a nice crust when cooked.

All of this is why you include the breadcrumbs and cheese. While cooking, the breadcrumbs will capture moisture and flavor, before they run out into the pan; and the cheese will melt a bit and spread it's fat, moisture, and flavor, where some of the meats fat and juices ran out.

The end consistency you want, is a slightly sticky dough ball. You want a very little bit of a moist surface feel; enough that breadcrumbs would stick to it, but not so much that the crumbs would feel wet.

If the mix is too wet, you need to add more bread crumbs and remix, until it achieves the right consistency. If it's too dry, I wouldn't worry about it too much; unless the mix won't mold properly or breadcrumbs wont stick to it; in which case you should add another egg, and a bit of olive oil to the mix.

Now here's where the similarities to meatloaf end.

Time to start rolling.

Personally, I like to make my polpettes about the size of a tennis ball; which generally works out to about 4 oz. You can weight the if you like, but I prefer to go by instinct. Just ake the all the same size, so they'll cook consistently.

Take the tennis ball sized wad of eat, and roll it between your palms into a rough ball shape. You aren't trying to make it smooth, just relatively even. Roll all your balls out, and put them off to the side where they aren't going to get crushed.

Now, heat up your extra large extra thick skillet, with about 1/8" of extra light olive oil in the bottom; over a medium-high heat.

To the side of your pan, set up a work area with a wide bowl, filled with the rest of the breadcrumb and seasoning mixture; and your tray of meatballs.

We're going to start here by throwing the remaining garlic into the hot oil, and start to brown them. You know you've got your heat control right, when you can keep the garlic cooking, but not burning.

Next, start rolling the meatballs in the breadcrumb mixture, one by one; and placing them in the hot oil, giving them a little pat to flatten them down just a bit so they sit stable and don't roll around. Fill the pan, but don't allow the meatballs to touch. You want AT LEAST a fingers width of space around all sides

Now, this is the part that takes some skill and patience. You need to cook these balls on all six sides; at about two minutes per side, until they crisp up; at the right heat to crisp up on the outside, without getting dry and overcooked on the inside.

Honestly, I can't give you any hints here, except that a full pan is easier to control the heat on;, and putting a lot more meat in the pan all at once drops the heat significantly (which can cause the balls to get sodden with oil). Really, what it takes is practice. If you want to do them two or four at a time until you get the hang of it, it's probably a good idea.

Now, there is another school of cooking the meatballs that holds you should flash cook them to crisp them up on the outside; then finish them up in a 350 degree oven, for about 20 minutes. It works, but personally I prefer to cook them fully in the pan.

THis recipe makes a bout 20 or so good sized polpette.

Now, once you're done with all the polpette, you've got a pan full of hot, meaty, garlicy, olive oil.

... maybe, if you had a little free time on your hands while the balls were cooking, you might have grabbed out something like the following...

Enough fresh plum tomatoes, crushed, to fill the bottom of the pan
Half a dozen or so Italian red chilis (a mild chili), chopped and crushed
2 shots of vodka, or another spirit of your choice
4 oz of a robust red wine (a chianti will do just fine)
4 oz heavy cream
2 oz aged parmagiana cheese
2 oz aged Pecorino Romano cheese
4 tblsp fresh basil, chiffonaded
4 tblsp fresh oregano, minced
4 tblsp black pepper
4 tblsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tblsp smoked paprika


1 large sweet onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
Turn your heat up as high as you can get it, and let the oil heat up to the point just before the pan scrapings will start to burn; then CAREFULLY deglaze and scrape the pan with the vodka. Wait till the boiling mostly stops, and add in your crushed tomatos, and chilis (and other peppers and onions if you so choose).

You're going to want to nearly sautee the tomatoes, until the moisture drops the temperature down enough so you're just stewing. At that point, you want to add the wine, and the dry seasonings (but not the dried cheese yet).

Now, heat the sauce on a very high simmer, until it starts to thicken appreciably. Then add the cheese in slowly; incorporating completely, and avoiding clumping. At this stage add the fresh herbs and any other seasonings you may want; and again let reduce.

After a few minutes, you may have some excess oil float to the top. You can either mix this back in, or skim it off; as you prefer. This sauce SHOULD be slightly oily.

You don't want to cook this too much; it should maintain a fresh, sweet, and savory flavor. The body is provided by the oil base, and the finishing touch. Just before service, add in the cream, and stir to an even color and consistency.

If you want to be really traditional here, you should add fresh muscles in their shells; but I think I'd just serve it over vermicelli, with a couple polpette.

See now, there's two for one. I didn't really cheat.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 23 - Some Like it Hot
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form

Comfort food. We all have a different definition; but for most people, it's the food that their mother or grandmother (or aunts, or uncles, or grandpa) made for them when they were kids.

Unfortunately, my mother and grandmother were both horrible cooks. They could both bake like nobodies business, but the cooking was not so hot. I primarily learned to cook out of defense of my tastebuds.

My PERSONAL version of comfort food, is what I made to erase the memory of how bad what they fed me was. Over time I've gradually perfected the RIGHT way to cook the foods that should have been good when I was growing up.

Hell, half of my recipes are just that in fact. Certainly my macaroni and cheese, my ribs, my steak, my pot roast, my beef stew, my fried chicken... hmm, OK, maybe more than half...

Well, of all the bad dishes my mom used to make, her meatloaf was the absolute worst. Now here's a puzzler for you. Could somebody tell me, how is it you can make a dish that is both dry and greasy at the same time? (actually, I know how, and how not to; and I'll tell you later on)

What's worse though, is that I can't get any satisfaction from restaurant meatloaf either; because they almost all have onions, which I happen to be allergic to.

Now it comes to pass I find out that my darling wife has never had good meatloaf. Oh she's had SOME meatloaf, but it's all been moms meatloaf; and if anything, her mother is a worse cook than mine. As a result she has an irrational prejudice against the stuff. When I announced that I was craving meatloaf, she made a funny face, and started making excuses about why we shouldn't make it.

Today, I decided it was time to eliminate that prejudice once and for all.

Now personally, I like my meatloaf to be essentially a really big, juicy, crusty, glazed meatball; so that's just what I did....

And THIS, is the result:

Yes, it tastes as good as it looks; but with all that grease drained out of it, it's surprisingly healthy as well, at somewhere around 55 calories per ounce of cooked drained loaf.

3 pounds, 85% lean ground beef
1 pound extra lean ground pork
1 pound ground lamb
4 eggs
1 cup glaze mix (see below)

Fresh2 tblsp fresh sage, chiffonaded
2 tblsp fresh basil, chiffonaded
2 tblsp fresh oregano, minced
2 tblsp fresh parsley, chiffonaded
2 tblsp fresh thyme, minced

Fresh (optional)
4 large chili peppers (choose heat to taste), fine chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 extra large sweet onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped

Dry4-1/2 cups breadcrumbs or cracker meal (make your own, or buy decent, not tubed)
1 cup by volume aged ground parmagiana cheese
1 cup by volume aged ground Pecorino Romano cheese
2-4 tblsp black pepper to taste
1 tblsp salt
1 tblsp cayenne pepper
1 tblsp ground cumin
1 tblsp crushed fennel seed
1 tblsp ground mustard (hot or mild, to taste)
1 tblsp smoked paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1-1/2 cups of your favorite sweet BBQ sauce,
or substitute 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, and 1 additional cup ketchup
1-1/2 cup thick ketchup (I prefer Heinz)
1/4 cup franks red hot, or texas pete (or similar) hot sauce.
1/4 cup dijon, or spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup A1 sauce, or similar brown sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next, make your glaze, and assemble your other"wet" ingredients.

The most important part of your meatloaf is obviously the meat. Now most people think of meatloaf as just a sliced up hunk of ground beef; but for a good loaf, nothing could be further from the truth.

Personally, I like the three meat loaf; lamb, pork, and beef. Turkey just doesn't have the right texture, and the loaf ends up dry with it; and I personally don't like veal that much (the traditional 4th meat for making Italian meatballs).

The ground beef, pork, and lamb, have a balance of flavors, textures, and fat; that can't be beat with beef alone.

Now, as to the beef itself; don't go too lean, or you'll end up with a dry, grainy loaf that won't stick together properly. On the other hand, don't go too fatty, or you'll end up with a greasy, shrunken loaf, that is alternately loose, and bricklike, depending on what part of the loaf you taste. 85% lean is just about right for meatloaf.

The hardest part of doing this whole thing, is mixing the rather large amount of meat, thoroughly, with the wet and dry ingredients.

There's really only one way to do it. Combine all the wet ingredients together, and then mix them all up VERY THOROUGHLY with your hands; squeezing it out through your fingers to get the mix as fine as you can.

You CAN try and use a mixer if you have a large kitchen aid style stand mixer; but it generally does a poorer job, for a lot of wear and tear on your mixer. Whatever you do, don't try and use a food processor, or you'll either end up with a burned out food processor; or if you've got a really good heavy duty model, you'll have a lot of meat paste, not a loaf.

Now, once it's all wet and sloppy, take the fresh and the dry ingredients (reserving 1/2 cup or so of breadcrumbs) , mix them together; then mix them thoroughly with your wet side.

If you're going to add the onions, peppers, and celery; personally I recommend you do so raw, and with the wet ingredients not the fresh. Most sweat their veggies before putting them in meat loaf, but I find if you do that, you lose some of the character.

Now here's one of the funny paradoxes of meatloaf. The wetter you mix it, the dryer the loaf will be when cooked; and the dryer you mix it, the juicier. This is why you include the breadcrumbs and cheese. While cooking, the breadcrumbs will capture moisture and flavor, before they run out into the pan; and the cheese will melt a bit and spread it's fat, moisture, and flavor, where some of the meats fat and juices ran out.

What kills this though, is mixing the loaf too wet. If it's too wet, you end up losing most of your juices to runoff, and your meatloaf is both dry, and greasy; because all the breadcrumbs are saturated with water within the first few minutes of baking, if not before, rather than with the juices from cooking.

By the time you're done hand mixing, the meat mixture should resemble a slightly wet dough; with a very fine structure and texture. If it's too wet, you need to add more bread crumbs and remix, until it achieves the right consistency. If it's too dry, I wouldn't worry about it much, unless the mix won't mold properly, in which case you should add another egg to the mix, and maybe some ketchup or glaze mix.

Next step, molding.

The easy way to do this, is to take a loaf pan large enough for your meat mass (for a recipe this size, a 2lb deep loaf pan is about right), or split the recipe into two smaller pans (two 1 lbers work well as well, and of course you end up with twice the yummy yummy end pieces); and grease them both up with Pam, shortening, lard, margarine, butter etc... You aren't looking to add flavor here, just put a thin coating of oils on the loaf pan so the meat will release and unmold properly.

It's important to note, you are only going to use the loaf pan as a mold. The loaf itself will actually be cooked on a deep sheet pan, or baking pan. If you try and cook a meatloaf in a loaf pan, you'll end up with a top that is simultaneously crusty, and greasy; and the rest of the loaf will be loose, wet, greasy, and poorly textured.

Press the meat into the loaf pan thoroughly, being sure to fill any air pockets or gaps; then sprinkle the top (what will be the bottom in a moment) of the molded meatloaf, with the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs you reserved out earlier, covering evenly.

Flip the molding loaf pan onto a sheet pan, and tap gently but firmly, to release the loaf. You may have to lift up a corner and shake.

Once the loaf is unmolded, you're probably going to want to flatten it down, and round it out a bit; until it resembles the picture above. Most loaf pans mold a higher, narrower, loaf; but if you use that shape, there's a good chance you'll end up with a dry exterior, and an undercooked middle. What you want to do, is flatten the whole loaf out to no more than about 4" thick.

Now, switch your oven over to broil temporarily, and stick the loaf into it on the second rack from the bottom, for about 15-20 minutes. You're trying to set the shape of the loaf here with high direct heat; so it starts to get some browing on it.

Next, flip the oven back over to bake; and then glaze your loaf thoroughly, using a brush to apply your glaze mixture. Be sure to get 100%, thick, even coverage.

Bake until the glaze is set up, which should take about 15 minutes; then reglaze. Keep reglzing every15 minutes or so, or when the glaze is set again; until the internal temperature hits between 135 and 140.

Finally, reglaze one more time, this time with just straight ketchup, over what should now be the slightly browned barbecue sauce based glaze. Turn the oven back to broil, and let the glaze start to brown again, as shown in the picture above.

Once the glaze browns over slightly, take the loaf out of the oven, and let it carryover for 5 minutes or so before serving.

The five pound recipe here should feed 8 full grown adults, with a little left over. I personally find it best served with mashed potatoes; and I never needed any ketchup, though a little home made hot sauced based BBQ sauce was tasty with a bite or two (I ate most of it au naturel as it were).

And now Mel likes meatloaf.

Next up, show her how to turn that recipe into the worlds best polpette.
And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 23 - Some Like it Hot
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew