Friday, November 30, 2012

Adventures in sleep deprivation

So, I've mentioned before that one of the side effects I've had from  my underlying health issues, and from the medications to treat them; is periodic bouts of moderate to very severe insomnia.

Well, this past week I've had the worst bout with insomnia that I've had since I was a teenager.

note: When I was 15, I once spent five full days ...127 hours actually... awake; without the aid of medication. I was halucinating by the end of it. A few years later, in a training exercise when I was 19; I spent 4.5 days awake and very physically active; and again, by the end of that I was experiencing sleep deprivation induced psychosis.

It's now Friday morning, at just before 0100. The last time I woke up from actual sleep of any duration was last Sunday around 1100.

It's been almost 110 hours since I actually slept.

In that time, I have managed to have three, very shallow, short periods of dozing; of about 60-90 minutes each. None of that was true sleep; I never went below the level of a shallow doze. I've also had a few fatigue induced microsleeps, and zone outs.... as you would expect...

...and which is actually worse than not sleeping at all, even if it's a short period of actual sleep; because shallow naps aren't actually restorative. You a back fully awake even more fatigued and groggy than before you started.

The last of those was Wednesday, around 8-9am.

The real kicker though?

During that time, I've had SEVEN phone interviews (one tuesday, one wednesday, and five thursday) which, thankfully, I think I nailed), with two different prospective employers.

Thank god I know how to function on no sleep... but still, never a good situation.

The good news is that I am about to fall asleep, and this one is going to be for real. I'm writing this  the last dregs of useful consciousness and energy, and about 30 seconds after I put my laptop down I'll be passing out...

Just enough time to get a good night sleep, before I have to get up and get ready for another phone interview at 10am.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This, This is Too Much

Would add commentary, but then I'd either become homicidal or go cry in a corner somewhere, neither of which would help the situation at all.

Sick children are being discharged from NHS hospitals to die at home or in hospices on controversial ‘death pathways’.  
Until now, end of life regime the Liverpool Care Pathway was thought to have involved only elderly and terminally-ill adults.  
But the Mail can reveal the practice of withdrawing food and fluid by tube is being used on young patients as well as severely disabled newborn babies.  
One doctor has admitted starving and dehydrating ten babies to death in the neonatal unit of one hospital alone.
Writing in a leading medical journal, the physician revealed the process can take an average of ten days during which a baby becomes ‘smaller and shrunken’. 
The LCP – on which 130,000 elderly and terminally-ill adult patients die each year – is now the subject of an independent inquiry ordered by ministers. 
The investigation, which will include child patients, will look at whether cash payments to hospitals to hit death pathway targets have influenced doctors’ decisions.
HT Breda's Facebook

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fun Hypothetical Exercise - What Would You Do?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock (or otherwise engaged somewhere) you've most likely heard today's Powerball jackpot is $500 million.

Over at the Guncounter there's a thread going about how you would deal with such a large windfall. I'm going to respond there but I also thought it's a fun exercise for the blog.

It's actually an exercise Chris and I do often, if only because just a tiny bit of hope is a wonderful and needful thing sometimes.

So what would we do?

First, before ever leaving for Boise to claim the prize we'd go right in to the local post office for our CDP and set up a PO Box. This becomes our new mailing address. Bring every single employee there cookies in order to at least partially make up for the extra work we just handed them.

Second, find a good estate lawyer and a good accountant. Fortunately we've got access to both.

That's before we even see the money. Third, go claim the prize in lump sum form. Just deal with the withholding right off the top, it's going to happen no matter what. Go straight to bank, get the branch manager to do the transaction, do not pass go.

Visit with Mo K and family while in Boise. Blow some of the initial cash on good food and good drink.

Go back up to North Idaho. Stop at bank branch in Coeur D'Alene where two former co-workers are now in charge (both highly ethical, good people). Explain situation, and what we're doing. Get both of them bonuses for opening new accounts.

Talk to local news stations and newspapers. Idaho state lottery doesn't allow anonymity, so we'd get the ordeal over with immediately and on our terms. Fortunately we're in a community that doesn't care about wealth. Both Ben Stein and Viggo Mortensen own vacation homes here for a reason, here they are not revered as celebrities or as rich, they just get to be normal people.

Visit with our real estate agent in person. Get him started looking for the big acreage. Buy when the right one comes up. Buy the house we're currently in as well.

Hire another former co-worker, also very ethical and trustworthy, to handle mail and incoming phone calls. Expect to keep her on for years to come as a personal assistant.

Pay back all debts and send money to EVERY person who has ever given us a donation.

Hire a certain friend in California to ferret out gun bloggers and others in the community that are in need. Set up a charitable organization for addressing those needs, and hand said friend the reins. Pay him to do this. 

Also donate to Soldier's Angels, the local animal shelter (which runs entirely on donations, no state or federal funds), the local organization for foster children, etc.

Give each of my brothers, my dad, and Chris's dad lump sums. Set up a medical trust for my brother with kidney failure and my grandmother. Also set up trusts for other family members with medical needs. Put my oldest brother (a very good accountant) in charge of the trusts. This will do two things: take the pressure off of my dad for my grandmother's care, and make it possible for my youngest brother to get off of SSI so he can stop worrying about making too much money and disqualifying himself.

Set up my kids, my brother's kids, and Chris's niece with educational funds. Set stipulations as to what they'll cover, like:
*Only tuition and room and board, and other reasonable costs (with reasonable determined by the executor).
*Only for programs where the total costs are equal or less than 5 years of entry-level wages for the position the education would prepare them for.
*If they choose military service, lump sum payout after they are honorably discharged or once they reach a rank that would be considered average for 4 years in (as determined by both the executor and the large number of retired military in the family). Medical discharges after successful completion of boot camp are considered the same as honorable discharge.

Put my oldest brother in charge of the funds. He was born with brain damage due to forceps delivery. The doctors originally thought he'd never graduate high school because of the damage. He made it through college and is now a very successful accountant, turns out the brain damage was in the more social areas. He's mostly asexual, slightly autistic, and OCD about making numbers balance. They'd have a hell of a time trying to convince him that "beer and girls" are reasonable education expenses.

Pay my oldest brother a yearly stipend for handling the trusts and funds, and pay him an additional yearly stipend for the care of our youngest brother (the brother who has kidney failure lives with him).

Send my father on a Christian singles cruise and hope he finds a nice widow to marry.

Give several cash and material gifts to a variety of family and friends.

Then the fun stuff starts. Visit the Audi dealership and get Chris an S8. Visit the BMW dealership and get me a diesel X5 for the new mommy mobile.

Spend more money setting up the homestead with everything we want.

Splurge on shoes, lingerie, and good cosmetics. And guns, of course.

As for how to deal with the people asking for money... that's what the personal assistant is there to screen for. As for family, there's a really good litmus test. If they bring up my brother's medical expenses fund as a "justification" for why they "deserve" some too, they'll never get any. Ever. Everyone who hasn't talked to me in over 2 years is similarly taken off of the "maybe" list. Everyone else is assessed according to need.

Invest everything else.

What would you do?


Monday, November 26, 2012

Baby Byrne, is now officially Baby Boy Byrne

Christopher Byrne the Fifth is due to arrive in this world on or about April 12th 2013.

...I make no comment on the gesture my son is making in the second photo...

Retirement Age and Other Lies

Today is my (Mel's) 32nd birthday.

That technically makes me the leading edge of Generation Y which, if you ask Chris, is where I belong culturally.

My mother passed away in 2008 from advanced-stage breast and ovarian cancer. My maternal grandparents passed away in the late 1980's and early 90's (I'm sure my uncle will correct me on this) from heart disease and Alzheimer's.

My paternal grandfather passed away last year at 94 from stomach cancer which he refused to treat and he was active up until his death. My paternal grandmother is still alive though now suffering from dementia. She is 92 and still active.

My father is also still alive and working. He's now 71 with no health problems other than those caused by a car accident that almost killed him.

So out of my family tree 2 grandparents died from diseases that are either now much more treatable or completely avoidable, my mother died from a disease that would have been much more treatable if she'd taken care of herself, one grandparent died essentially from old age, and I have one grandparent and one parent still alive. Of those still alive, they are both either very active or in advanced age.

Why is this important?

When anyone talks to me about Social Security, retirement planning, or anything else having to do with long-term planning, I know they're full of shit.

My grandfather lived 29 years past when he started receiving Social Security. My grandmother is at 27 years past "retirement age". They thought they would die decades ago.

When my grandmother was born the average life expectancy for a white female was 58 years. 10 years later the expectancy for her age group was raised to 68. Another ten years later, 71. Another ten years, 75.

When I was born, the average life expectancy for my age cohort was 78. Then 80. Then 81. Now, as of 2008's data, the average life expectancy for a white female my age is 82.

That's a long ways from 65, no matter which way you put it.

On top of that, the CDC mortality data from 2009 is very telling.

The top causes of death in 2009 were:
1. Diseases of the heart, 24.6%
2. Malignant neoplasms (cancer), 23.3%
3. Chronic lower respiratory disease, 5.6%
4. Cerebrovascular diseases, 5.3%
5. Accidents, 4.8%
6. Alzheimer's, 3.2%
7. Diabetes mellitus, 2.8%
8. Influenza and pneumonia, 2.2%
9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis, 2.0%
10. Intentional self-harm (suicide), 1.5%

Out of all of the above, how many causes are becoming either more treatable or more curable every day?

Life expectancy will almost certainly go up.

What does that mean for me personal though? What impact does that have on my life?

When my grandparents were born I would have been considered "middle aged". I might only be through a third of my life (or less) at this point.

My grandparent's generation didn't expect to see Social Security. When my father was born the life expectancy for his age cohort was 62. In 2008 it was revised to 84 years for the same group.

I'm pretty sure almost no man his age could foresee the average age of death being 19 years past the "expected" retirement age of 65. Retirement planning never occurred to them.

My father was 39 when I was born. He recognized he could die any day from that point on. At this point he might live until 95. That's 55 years of "I might die today" or "I might get sick and not being able to work again" or "I might keep trucking for another few decades."

For me, I'm thinking I might die tomorrow, or I might live to see 100. That's 70 years of financial planning, back-up plans, being prepared for ill health, and being prepared for good health. It completely changes how I look at retirement planning, or in my case the likelihood of never retiring at all.

I'm not staring down 65, planning for the day that I am "free" from working. I don't want to spend 30+ years retired. Nor can I afford to, or even expect to make semi-reasonable plans for living without income for that long.

There is no "retirement nest egg" for me. I'll need to plan for stable sources of income for decades to come, as will most of my generation.

The old way of retirement is dead. We need to plan for a completely different way of thinking about the future.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

NFL week 11 (and beyond)

First thing first...

To Patriots doubters, and Patriots haters, it's LONG past time to STFU.





But anything other than a top five team in the NFL

Yeah... no

Those of you who were in your little happy dance mode when the Patriots were below .500... for all of a week... crowing about how Tom Brady was past it, how the time of the Patriots was over...

Yes... three losses total, by a maximum of 2 points...

Past it... right...

Thou hast beclowned thyselves...

Week 11 stats

Win/Loss: 7-3
Win pct: .700
Total Pts: 358 (nfl leader by 56 points)
Total Pts allwd: 225 (nfl leader by more than 20 points)
Diff: 133
Highest score: 59 (franchise record)
Lowest score: 18
Opp highest score: 31
Opp lowest score: 7
Avg score: 35.8 (nfl leader by more than 5 points)
Avg opp score: 22.5
Avg margin: 13.3
Highest margin of victory: 38
Avg margin of victory: 19.6
Avg margin of loss: 1.3

remaining stats as of week 10 (the week 11 stats aren't complete yet)

Takeaways: 23 (3rd in NFL s of last week, but I believe tonights 4 makes them first)
Giveaways: 7 (NFL leader)
Take/Give: 16 ( NFL leader)
total yards offense: 3873 (nfl leader by over 200yds)
yards offense game: 430.4 (nfl leader by 25 yds game)
passing yards: 2559 (8th in nfl)
pass yards game: 284.3 (7th in NFL)
rushing yards: 1314 (7th in NFL)
rushing yards game: 146 (5th in NFL)
Third down conversion: 50/112 44.6% (2nd in NFL)
Forced Fumbles: 17 (NFL leader... plus two more tonight)

Look at those numbers for a second... Those three losses, 1 point, 1 point, and 2 points? The record could EASILY be 10-0.

Oh and 2 of those 3 of those losses were under the replacement refs thankyouverymuch.

They've massively outscored their opponents... in fact they've massively outscored the entire NFL. Their next highest scoring competitor is 56 POINTS DOWN (as of tonight). They have by far the highest average score margin, the highest average margin of victory, the lowest average margin of defeat...

And they did it while having only the 8th highest passing and 7th highest rushing in the league...

But 8th and 7th add up to first total offense in this case; again by a huge margin.

The defense?

Currently ranked 15th or 16th overall (depending on how you want to count it), 13th in points allowed... but first in fumbles forced, first in fumbles recovered, third in interceptions (four more takeaways tonight, to no giveaways, which I think moves them up to second or first).

That comes out to having the best take to give ratio in the NFL; the most yards gained, and most points scored off of takeaways; and the least yards lost and points lost off of giveaways.

So yeah... All y'all thinking that they're anything but at LEAST a division championship caliber, if not conference or superbowl champion team...

It's past time for y'all to wake up and shut up.

Week 12 and Beyond:

Ok, now for the rest of the season?

Week 12: @ Jets... I'm expecting an easy win here
Week 13: @ Miami... Should be a walkover
Week 14: Houston @ That's a tough game... but despite a 9-1 record, I think the Pats are the better team
Week 15: San Fran @ again, a tough game, but again, I think the Pats are the better team
Week 16: Miami @ I don't expect the Dolphins will be getting any better the rest of the season.

Yes, Gronkowski is probably out for the rest of the regular season, and that's a big loss no doubt; but this season has proven that we can win without depending so much on Gronk (which we COULDN'T do last superbowl unfortunately, basically losing because Gronkowski had a bad day).

My full season record prediction: 11-5 or better (we could very well see 12-4 or even 13-3).

As to who looks like a playoff team to me (top six per conference)?



My pick of the Colts... Frankly I don't think they're much of a team this year (look at the absolute destruction of them by the Pats tonight for example)... but looking at their wildcard competition... I don't think anyone else is any better.



Honestly, I think the second NFC wildcard is a tossup between the Buccs, Vikings, and Seahawks; I just picked the Seahawks based on who they've beaten (though who they have lost to isn't impressive). Both the Buccs and the Seahawks have beaten the vikings, and it wasn't very close; and I think the Seahwaks have beaten better teams than the Buccs.

Conference Championship Games:



This year is really muddy, I am not in any way confident in these predictions.

In the AFC I really do believe that the Ravens and the Pats are fundamentally better teams than the Texans or Broncos... but frankly, I have no confidence in the consistency of any of them.

In the NFC... well... I think the NFC overall is more competitive, and more consistent than the AFC right now... but again, I have no real confidence.

Right now... these are gut level picks.


Don't even ask. It's not in any way shape or form predictable right now.

Ask me what I'd LIKE to see? That's easy...

I'd like revenge for Superbowl XX

Bears over Patriots 46-10... I'd like to reverse that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aargh... sick

Woke up sick.

Tried to ignore it, live life anyway.

It smacked me upside the head with a 2x4; and said "I will NOT be ignored" like Angela Basset in a chick flick.

Call back in a couple days... I think I'll be able to see straight by then.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Puppies on ice

Snowed here yesterday (Thursday/Friday overnight) for the first time this winter... or the first time at our altitude anyway. We're at 2200ft, and the snow line has been 3,000 up 'til last night.

There was 2-4" of snowfall around the region, but we had about an inch of accumulation (the first inch or so melted).

Last night, it got down below 20 degrees (its been above freezing most nights), and the black ice was REALLY bad.

...Really bad black ice, on a two lane, unlit 6omph limit highway; mostly with no guardrails, and a couple of long 6% grades with 90 degree turns in the middle...

The one major disadvantage of where we live really.

We went down to Spokane to celebrate our anniversary with friends (a couple days early. Our anniversary is tomorrow), and on the way down, we saw six cars off the road; including two that actually went off the road right in front of us (black ice, on a turn just over the crest of a hill).

The truck handled the ice just fine, but knowing how to drive properly helps. Four wheel drive and good snow tires are great, but they don't trump the laws of physics.

It doesn't matter how good your vehicle is, or how good your tires are; inertia overcomes friction pretty damn easily on ice.

When you are maneuvering in a low friction environment, you want your motion to be a simple vector. You can either accelerate, decelerate, or turn... just one, not two; or the product of your vector components is going to be greater than the friction force acting on your vehicle.

Four wheel drive, and good tires, increase the friction component of your total forces, (and help keep them balanced between your front and rear tires), but there's only so much that they can do.

Simple physics.

It got even colder while we were down in Spokane, and rather than risk driving back up into the mountains, with the rest of the idiots sliding around, slamming into us or running us off the road; we ended up staying over with them (and then going for breakfast in the morning).

Overall, a good night, but ended up a pretty long one, since we only got home late this afternoon.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Life goes on

So, now that the furor has died down somewhat, I can post this bit, which has nothing to do with the election whatsoever, and everything to do with real, actual, life; which indeed, does go on.

This morning, for the very first time, I was able to feel our baby move in my wifes womb.

Mel has been able to feel the baby for a couple weeks; but now, he (Mel is still insisting it's a boy) is big enough to feel from the outside.

We should find out the babys sex in two weeks.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Alright... so... what happened?

So, how is it that Obama actually managed to pull this out?

This was not some great mandate for Obama (though many will attempt to sell it as such). Actually, under most circumstances this would have been a damning repudiation of him.

Obama lost two more states than in 2008, and the states he won lost electoral votes in between...

He lost support in almost every demographic, almost every statistical grouping... He even lost support among blacks and women (though of course, he still took both groups by wide margins).

In fact, over 10 million fewer people voted for Obama this election than in 2008.

Obama in 2012, actually got less votes than McCain did in 2008.

So how did Obama win?

Well.. as it happens, so did Romney.

...Get less votes than McCain that is... About 3 million less actually.

In fact, Romney lost to Obama, by fewer votes (about 2.6 million) than the difference between McCain and Romney from 2008 to 2012.

If Romney had achieved the same number of votes McCain did in 2008, he probably would have won.

It really did come down to turnout... But not in the way we expected. 

Those of us who believed that Romney was going to win, assumed that that while almost no-one actually loved Romney... or even particularly liked the idea of him as president; that those voters dislike of Obama would cause them to vote for Romney, to get Obama out of office.

They didn't.

Instead, they just didn't vote.

Polls showed a large independent break for Romney. up to 20%

But the turnout models were wrong, and the likely voter models were wrong.  Romney only ended up with a 5% advantage among independents.

Those 15% ?

They just decided not to vote.

In fact, not only did both Romney AND Obama get less votes than 2008... they also both got less than their counterparts in 2004.

Absolute turnout hasn't been this low since 2000, when the country had 35 million fewer people in it.

As a percentage, turnout hasn't been this bad since 1948. 

Yes, seriously, we haven't had turnout this bad in 64 years.

So, where did Romney lose support from McCain?

Actually, in most demographic categories, Romney gained support over McCain as a percentage... But in a few critical groups, he lost substantially:

  • Fiscal conservatives (more than 10% loss)
  • Libertarians (more than 20% loss)
  • Latinos (Romney lost 6%, Obama gained 3%, 3% less voted)
  • Asians (Romney lost 9%, Obama gained 11%, 2% more voted)
  • The elderly (Romney lost 3%, Obama picked up 1%, 2% less voted)
  • He also lost HUGE on "shares my values" (over 10%), and "cares about people like me" (over 6%).

Basically, Romney was successfully portrayed as an uncaring and detached rich guy to "centrists" and "independents"; and he actually IS a big government Republican, which other independents, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians didn't want to vote for.

The Republican party (and most everyone else for that matter) simply assumed that by choosing Romney as their nominee, people would vote for him as the lesser of two evils...

They didn't.

Instead, they just didn't vote. 

Margin of Lawyer

So, Obama won...

At least in theory...

As of right now, projected electoral college counts have it Obama 303, Romney 206 (with Florida not reporting, due to a very high rate of problems around the state).

In practice...

Well... the next week... Maybe the next 34 days... could get a bit messy.

Understand I'm not saying that Romney actually won here...

... BUT...

You see,  due to the nature of the electoral college, that 303 to 206 number is rather misleading.

In fact, with over 113 million votes counted (and a few million more still uncounted), Obama actually only won by something less than 2 million votes nationwide.

In a couple states, his margin was less than 50,000. Several more had a margin of less than 100,000. In about half the states it he is projected to have won, it was under 200,000.

As of midnight pacific, Obamas reported margin of victory in at least 9 states is far lower than the number of uncounted absentee and provisional ballots.

In some cases (Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia), that difference is by well over a hundred thousand... In Florida it's over half a million, and it may be over a million.

Florida is actually just a disaster all over again; with major errors in election procedure that will result in at least 30,000 people voting today instead of yesterday (and probably more, as they decide what to do about other errors).

Ohio is somewhat better, but there are still huge problems with absentee, provisional, and early voting ballots.

As it happens, if Romney were to win four of those states (Florida, Ohio, Virginia, any other state; or Florida, Ohio, and any two other states in question) when the final count is finished, he would be the winner.

No, concessions don't count (2000 proved that in case there was any doubt). States count until they're done, certify their counts, and then declare their electors by certification day. It doesn't matter whether a candidate as conceded or not, the count is what it is.

... and even if concession did count, the problem isn't with the Romney campaign...

Again, I'm not saying that Romney won.

What I'm saying, is that unless things get much clearer in the next 8 hours or so, there may be a big problem... And it's not with Romney, or Obama.

It's with the lawyers.

Obama may have won... he may even have won beyond the margin of error (though as of right now, that is not actually the case)...

But he hasn't won beyond the margin of lawyer.

Again, as 2000 proved, these days you have to win beyond the margin of lawyer.

Even if the candidate or the party doesn't want it, there are enough rich nutjobs out there, that so long as there is any kind of numerical possibility of forcing an Obama loss, they are going to be suing and suing and suing...

Much like 2000, this election may end up being contested, in a serious way that the courts will actually have to address; until the certification deadline.

And, of course, no matter what happens, the conspiracy theorists (on both sides) are going to have a field day.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Four Years Later - a Different Life

The big question of this election has been, are you better off than you were four years ago?

That has been an especially complicated issue for us in particular; as our life is COMPLETELY different than it was in 2008.

Today I left the house and voted, just like 4 years ago.

That's about where the similarities end.

Four years ago we lived in Scottsdale, AZ, and had no idea where we would be moving (we didn't decide on Idaho until mid 2009).

Now, we live in North Idaho; and live a completely different lifestyle.

4 years ago, I would have taken the trash out to the alley, gotten the kids ready for school, dropped the kids off at the private Catholic school, and headed to a local church to vote (about 500 yards away straight line, but a half mile by road).

I would have taken a mix of major city roads with commercial offices and stores, and minor residential roads full of houses. No one at the voting place would have recognized me. I would have been faced with not only the presidential race to vote for, but also a bunch of ballot propositions concerning illegal immigration.

After voting, I would have finished my errands, still not knowing anyone in particular. I would have gone home to a 1675 sq ft house on a small city lot (well... fairly large for a city lot, at 7850sqft. About .2 acre), surrounded by concrete, palm trees, gravel; and a seven foot high cindeblock wall and gapless wood fencing.

Chris would have been on the phone for work by the time I got home.

Today I woke up late because the baby was kicking again last night, and I didn't get to sleep 'til 3. I loaded up full trash bags in the bed of the truck to take to the transfer station (we have curbside pickup if we want, but we have to pay for it by private contract. Or we can take our trash to the transfer station ourselves for free).

I took the long way to transfer station, on back county roads; so I could drive by a property we're interested in possibly buying in another year. At the ranch to the north of that property I watched a man in a pickup truck check his fences with his heeler running alongside, while fat Angus crazed. When I saw the sign for the ranch I realized that I knew him from working at the bank.

Gangs of wild turkey were everywhere along my route, and I had to keep a careful eye out to avoid hitting the swarms off hoofed rats (a.k.a. deer) in the area.

When I got to the transfer station, the attendant recognized me and didn't even bother to check for the county tag that denotes free drop-off.

I'm there at least once a week, but only for a few minutes...

...But there's only 689 year round residents in our "town" (about 1600 from April through September; in 790 houses), in a county of just 40,000 people, over 2000sq miles ( in comparison, Maricopa county Arizona has a population of about 4 million, over 9200sq mi)...

...So it's not exactly surprising she'd recognize me.

...Or our truck... Which is kinda distinctive...

At the polling place (the local elementary school, 360 K-6 students spread over the southern half of the count. There's only 1900 total K-6 and 1700 total 7-12 students in the county), I recognized a few people from the area, or from working at the bank.

My voting options included the presidential race, local races, and ballot propositions concerning hunting and education. For the first time ever I voted for a local incumbent politician with whom I've had actual substantive conversations concerning what he did (and actually liked).

While running my errands afterward, I passed the business owned by the chairman of the local Republican party (and outgoing chairman of the county board of supervisors; he was beaten by a less libertarian Republican). He's still trying to convince Chris to run for one of the unopposed or weekly opposed county electoral or party positions, so we can skew the party even more libertarian. I stopped at a local cafe (where once again I recognized people) to pick up half a sandwich and a whole pie.

Then I headed home to our three-story 2900 sq ft house on 1.7 wooded acres, surrounded by trees, grass, and water. I even took a pic of the house on the way home (click to embiggen and look across the way, over the barn, to the opposite lake shore):

Chris was up and about when I got home, and shortly after getting home he was on the phone with a recruiter talking about a couple of positions, at a different large corporation than 4 years ago.

Life for us is very, very different for us now than it was even 4 years ago.

Generally better... though much more challenging.

Despite the challenges I'm very, very glad of that fact.


Funny... but also true in part; and a good question to answer

We vote on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November instead of on the weekend like smart people because of horse buggies and stuff. /via @markokloos
Actually, that is in part true... And it brings up a good question for those who are not familiar with American history...

Why do we vote on the first Tuesday, after the first Monday in November?

 The day we vote isn't in the constitution (as many assume). In fact, the law that defines when we do vote, was passed just one month after constitution went into full effect.

 Actually, it's among the very first pieces of U.S. Federal law:
 3.USC§1: The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.
So, why did our founding fathers decide on that particular day?

It actually does have to do with horses and buggies and stuff.

When the law was first passed, men didn't work on Sundays... and they were not supposed to travel etc.. Also, the majority of American voters were farmers (all voters were landowning men, most of whom were farmers).

The American system of voting has always been based on counties; and importantly, at the time, all voting was done at your county seat.

The way the county system in the U.S. was set up, was to have the seat of each county be a maximum of one days ride away from the edges of the county in each direction (or one days ride TO the county seat); and for the most part it still works that way east of the mississippi.

As it would take up to a full day to travel from the outskirts of the county, to the county seat, and as men couldn't travel on Sundays; it was necessary to have Monday as a full travel day, and Tuesday was the earliest day of the week for election day.

It could have been later in the week of course, but in many farm communities, and fishing communities, market day was Wednesday or Thursday; and it was important that people were back from their county seats the night before market.

So your landowners would prepare for their journey Monday morning, leave and travel all day Monday to get to the county seat; stay overnight in the county seat, voting as soon as the polls opened in the morning, and doing whatever errands they may have needed to do. Then they leave to travel back to their homes the rest of the day Tuesday, so they could prepare for market the next day.

As you can see, voting was far more involved, and far more difficult, when this nation was founded.

Ok, so that's why election day is a Tuesday... but why November?

Well, the laws establishing the electoral college rules required that: 
3.USC§7"The electors of President and Vice President of each State shall meet and give their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment at such place in each State as the legislature of such State shall direct". 
Congress also established that the certified electoral votes of each state must be delivered to the U.S. Capitol (to the vice president in his role as the president of the senate actually, 3.USC§11) by "the fourth Wednesday of December" (3.USC§12).

Initially there was no requirement that the choosing be in November, but when congress adopted the election laws of 1792, they specified that the choosing of electors in the states be some times in  34 days before the first Wednesday in December.

This was so that the election would be close to the end of the year, after the harvest had completed, but still giving electors time to travel to the state capitols to certify their electoral college votes per state; and to deliver and certify their states electoral votes to the national capitol by the deadline.

In 1845, in part due to irregularities in the elections of 1836, 1840, and 1844; congress changed the law so that instead of allowing the election to be any day within that 34 day period; every state around the country would have their choosing of electors on the same day.

...and that's where we got our modern election day.

Counterfactuals: Turtledoving Tolkein

So, one of the favorite pursuits of gun geeks, military geeks, and just... geeks in general; is thought games around counterfactuals and alternate history.

Today, someone on a non-gun forum I frequent posted the following counterfactual:
"So, I was watching the 'Lord of the Rings: Return of the King'; it got to the Siege of Minas Tirith, and it got me to thinking what battles (historical or fictional), might have been completely changed (and how) with one current Dillon Aero minigun, and enough ammunition to run it for however long it took"
A'right... I can dig it, let's play...

The first thing is, Harry turtledove has written this same basic scenario into the civil war. In fact, so did a couple dozen other writers; so much so that it's pretty much it's own alternate history subgenre.

Mary Gentle did it with the novel "Grunts!" (which itself was a pretty great satire of Tolkienesque fantasy conventions, and Tolkien himself), giving Orcs the military equipment and knowledge of modern US Marines (and you should read it, it's a great book. I just wish she'd continued it as a series as was originally planned).

Then there's the various "time travelers take modern knowledge to medieval/rennaisance europe" novels/series. There's literally dozens of them.

The Grantville/Assiti shards series is probably the best of these; though I have a great fondness for the Conrad Stargaard series.

Then there's S.M. Stirlings "emberverse" series; half of which features folks from modern nantucket (including the coast guard vessel Eagle, and its crew) sent back to the bronze age (the other half of the series is set from the late 1990s to the late 2020s, in a world where all high energy interactions and energy storage are damped to uselessness; effectively reverting to medieval technology levels).

Mostly these things are mental masturbation exercises for engineers, sociology geeks, and history (particularly military history) geeks...

...and there's nothing wrong with that.

They're great fun, and they use this conceit to explore human nature in unusual situations, and unusual ways. That's the entire point of speculative fiction.


When you actually wargame these things out, if you know what you're doing as regards military effectiveness etc... you find that equipment makes FAR less difference than training, conditioning, discipline, and tactics.

A professional soldier, in a professional army; is a professional soldier, no matter what their gear is, no matter what time they are from.

If you gave a cohort of Roman legionaires the equipment of a modern light infantry battalion, some basic training in how to use it (and in modern infantry tactics), and a little time to practice with their new gear and new tactics; they would still be among the best infantry in the world, and would likely have the same effectiveness as any modern light infantry.


Discipline, conditioning, and training.

When a man is worth his salt, the rest is just a matter of training.

... I'm sorry, it was just too perfect not to...

Now... To get down to specifics, let's talk about the inspiration for the question, the siege of Minas Tirith...

Not to say the power of a minigun (and adequate ammo for it) wouldn't be useful; it certainly would...

...But terrain and tactics are a far more significant factor here, than firepower.

The Pelennor fields are far too large a field of fire to be covered to significant effect with a single weapon, no matter how powerful; particularly given the long exposure of the Othram.

However, just covering the great gate... Well, oliphaunts are very big targets, and they clearly feel pain just like any other angry.

Also, the Witch King may not be vulnerable to bullets; but miniguns tend to be pretty effective at anti-aircraft fire, and since they'er not immune to big freakin axes... I'm pretty sure fell beasts are NOT invulnerable to large volumes of lead at high velocity.

...And hell.. if we put a woman and a hobbit on the controls, who knows, perhaps the prophecy of Glorfindel could have been fulfilled by a couple hundred rounds of 7.62 nato.

With a single properly manned and supplied minigun, well placed to defend the great gate; there would probably not have been no breaking of the gate... and a pretty frikking gigantic pile of massed bodies and brass in front of it.

Now... if we could get a bunch of miniguns out to the Rammas Echor, and particularly to the causeway forts; with interlocking fields of fire...

Well, there wouldn't have been a siege of Minas Tirith... there would have been the "bloody massacre at Pelennor fields".

Of course, where the armies of the west could REALLY have used a single minigun to great effect, would have been at Helms Deep (battle of the Hornburg).

It's only 440 yards (2 furlongs) of open field from the bend of the deeping comb to Helms dike; and another 440 yards (2 furlongs) of open field from Helms dike, to the Deeping wall...

880 yards of open field, just 880 yards wide, with a big dike in the middle (The 2 furlong measurements are in the text. Theoden says the dike "must be a mile wide at least; but the actual descriptions of it in the text, and the accounts of the battle, make it to be a maximum of 1/2 mile, and probably less)...

It takes a long time for 10,000 Orcs to cross 880 yards of open field, with a 10 yard high, 20 yard thick obstacle in the middle for them to pile up behind... and just a 10 yard wide gap to funnel through...

Legolas didn't need a hundred of the Mirkwood... what he really needed was ONE  of the Dillon Aero...

At 2,000 rounds per minute (low rate, to keep the barrels from heating up as badly... and short bursts), it doesn't take very long at all to saturate that kind of field of fire.

No storming of the ramp, no ramming of the gates, no breaching of the deeping wall... Just a whole bunch of brass, and dead Uruk Hai.

So... here's MY countrefactual for y'all to play with...

Arm the 300 Spartans (along with the 400 Thebans, 700 Thespians, 900 Helots, and assorted other peloponesians. Figure 1200 shooters, and 3,000 or so tail) with the small arms and individual combat equipment of a modern light infantry brigade (a reasonable force equivalence I think).... Including light crew served weapons ( mortars, grenade launchers, and GPMGs); but no organic artillery or air.

Give the Spartans enough time to train up to proficiency with their arms and equipment, and enough train to support 10 full battle loads per fighting man (Appx 2,400 rounds per shooter. Helots are loggies only, not shooters), plus adequate rations, and medical supplies for 10% major casualty force depletion.

Assume the maximum realistic (based on logistical limits) estimates of Xerxes armies at 300,000 (with poor rations) and the same requirement to hold the hot gates for at least three days, to allow the remainder of the Peloponesian armies to reach defensive postures.

Monday, November 05, 2012

More like "why didn't we have another guy to vote for"

From the generally excellent "Scandanavia and the World"

This Year's Popcorn-Worthy Races, North Idaho Edition

We've most avoided politics on the blog this election, partly because we're busy dealing with other things and partly because we already have enough stress.

However, tomorrow we will be firing up the popcorn popper and spending most of the afternoon and evening with the TV on because this will be an interesting election all around.

Obviously there's the national elections which are popcorn-worthy all by themselves. Idaho should be interesting due to ballot measures so we'll be watching those closely. Thanks to the joys of network television we've been watching the Washington State political ads and there's a ton of popcorn-worthy stuff on WA's ballots. We also have a few local races in our county that should end up very fun, even if they never make the tv news.

Just a note, I'm just listing what I consider interesting to watch, not everything that's on the ballot.

So starting at the local level...
Bonner County, Idaho sheriff's race: R incumbent Darryl Wheeler v. Constitution party challenger Rocky Jordan
In our minds it's "the really conservative guy v. the even more conservative guy". Having grown up in Maricopa County, the fact that I actually have to make an effort to remember Wheeler's name is all the endorsement I need (after spending my life with Sheriff Joe taking every news cycle). Either way, we'll end up with a good sheriff.
Idaho Constitutional Amendment HJR 2aa“Shall Article I, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a New Section 23, to provide that the rights to hunt, fi sh and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, are a valued part of the heritage of the State of Idaho and shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fi shing and trapping; to provide that public hunting, fi shing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife; and to provide that the rights set forth do not create a right to trespass on private property, shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body, shall not lead to a diminution of other private rights, and shall not prevent the suspension or revocation, pursuant to statute enacted by the Legislature, of an individual’s hunting, fi shing or trapping license?”
The amendment would take the "right to hunt" out of the state statutes and put it in the state constitution instead, therefore limiting the ability of the legislators to fuck with it and the ability of anti-hunting groups to sue individuals. I'm going to guess this will pass but the handwringing will be epic.

(Note: all 3 propositions on the ballot are tied together, as they each deal with a specific part of the educational reforms passed last year. The controversy over all of them has been huge and the mud-flinging quite intense. A YES vote means keeping the legislation, a NO vote means casting out the legislation.) 
Idaho Proposition 1: 
Referendum to approve or reject S1108; relating to education: revising Idaho Code
by amending 33-513, 33-514, 33-514A, 33-515, 33-515A, 33-516, 33-521, 33-522,
33-1003, 33-1004H, 33-1271, 33-1272, 33-1273, 33-1274, 33-1275, 33-1276 and
33-402; repealing 33-1004G; and, by adding new sections 33-515B, 33-523, 33-524,
33-1271A, 33-1273A and 33-1274A to revise the annual written evaluation process for
professional staff; phase out renewable individual contracts; provide that professional
staff employed after January 31, 2011 shall not be entitled to a formal review of decisions
for not being reemployed; allow school boards to change the length of terms stated in
current contracts and reduce the salaries of certifi cated staff with renewable contracts
without due process proceedings; require school districts to disclose to employees a
list of professional liability insurance providers; eliminate education support program for
school districts experiencing enrollment decreases greater than one percent; eliminate
teacher early retirement incentives; restrict the scope of negotiated agreements between
school boards and professional staff to compensation and the duration of negotiated
agreements to one year; and eliminate provisions for fact fi nding in professional

This is quite obviously the VERY condensed version. It essentially eliminates tenure for new teachers, puts all teachers on limited-time and limited-term contracts, and bases contract renewal and layoff decisions on a teacher's performance:

"For all evaluations conducted after June 30, 2012, at least fi fty percent (50%) of the evaluation shall be based on objective measure(s) of growth in student achievement, as determined by the board of trustees. In addition, input from the parents and guardians of students shall be considered as a factor in the evaluation of principals and any other school-based 
administrative employees’ evaluation." 

Importantly, all such decisions would be made by the local school board, not the state.

Also, what's not mentioned in the summary is that it also restricts the ability of unions to bargain for changes to contracts AND requires unions to prove that the majority of teachers in the district in question are represented by the union.
Idaho Proposition 2: 

Referendum to approve or reject S1110; relating to education: revising Idaho Code by adding new section 33-1004I to provide and distribute in fi scal year 2013 state share-based pay for performance bonuses to certifi cated instructional staff based on a school’s median student growth percentiles on state achievement tests and a school’s median standardized score on state achievement tests and local share-based pay for performance based on student test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, percent of graduates attending postsecondary education or entering military service, meeting federal “adequate yearly progress”, number of students successfully completing dual credit or advanced placement classes; percent of students in extracurricular activities, class projects, portfolios, successful completion of special student assignments, parental involvement, teacher-assigned grades, and/or student attendance rates, and, in fi scal year 2014 and thereafter, in addition to the aforementioned bonuses, provide incentives for certifi cated instructional staff in hard-to-fi ll positions and leadership awards for certifi cated instructional staff who assume one or more of the following additional duties: instructional staff mentoring, content leadership, lead teacher, peer coaching, content specialist, remedial instructor, curriculum development, assessment development, data analysis, grant writing, special program coordinator, research project, professional development instructor, service on education committees, educational leadership and earning national board certifi cation.
Also VERY condensed. In a nutshell, merit pay based on student academic growth, the performance of the school, AND taking on extra duties.

Idaho Proposition 3: 
Referendum to approve or reject S1184; relating to education: revising Idaho Code by amending 33-125, to provide for a fi scal report card; repealing 33-129 relating to science education matching grants; amending 33-357 relating to a certain internet website; amending 33-1002 relating to the educational support program; adding new section 33-1002A relating to fractional average daily attendance; amending 33-1004 relating to staff allowances; amending 33-1004A relating to the experience and education multiplier; amending 33-1004E relating to district’s salary-based apportionment; amending 33-1004F relating to obligations to the public employee retirement system and social security; amending 33-1020 relating to moneys distributed to the Idaho Digital Learning Academy; adding new section 33-1021 relating to distribution of moneys to school districts for certain math and science courses; adding new section 33-1022 relating to public school technology and expenditures or distributions of moneys for such; adding new section 33-1626 relating to dual credit; adding new section 33-1627 relating to online courses and mobile computing devices and providing certain expenditures or distributions of moneys; adding new section 33-5216 relating to public postsecondary institutions being authorized to operate public charter high schools.
If you listened to the teacher's unions you'd think of this as the "replacing teachers with laptops" legislation, when it's really not. This proposition includes a lot but what I find most interesting is the requirement for graduating high school students to take at least 2 courses online (at the school even), make sure students have access to digital learning via laptops, and provides for virtual charter high schools.

All 3 propositions will live or die together and the fallout should be interesting.

Washington State

As I mentioned above, we get to see WA political ads. The most interesting races this year will be:
Washington State Governor: Jay Inslee democrat v. Rob McKenna republican. 
The ads have been so vicious this round that we'll be glad to see this race decided. 2 very different men, it will be interesting to see who WA votes in.
Initiative Measure No. 1185 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. This measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.
We'll see if WA is finally tired of continual tax hikes coming out of Olympia.
Initiative Measure No. 1240 concerns creation of a public charter school system. This measure would authorize up to forty publicly-funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious, nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools.
Cue the handwringing by the teacher's unions.
The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill. This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.Should this bill be: accepted or rejected
If other states are any indication, this should be interesting both before AND after the election.
Initiative Measure No. 502 concerns marijuana. This measure would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.
The entire country will be watching this one. If it passes, expect a line of challenges all the way up to and including the Supreme Court. This is the most popcorn-worthy out of all the WA state initiatives.

And, of course, national...
President of the United States: incumbent Democrat Barack Obama v. Republican Mitt Romney v. a whole bunch of other people who probably won't matter.
The legal challenges might last a decade. I'm guessing most politically minded people will be up late on Tuesday watching this pan out.

Should be a very interesting election all around.


Firearms Basics - Part 2: Cheap Optics?

This is the first full post in my new series "Firearms Basics", which I introduced here.

So, I got a question on a non-gun forum today, that I think is pretty common... and I haven't really seen what I consider to be a good and comprehensive answer around the gun blogs and gun forums (and I've seen a lot of bad advice, and a lot of derision and mockery about this sort of question).

 I'll paraphrase it here:
"I just bought a used 10/22, and I want to put an optic on it, but I don't want to spend too much money. 
It seems silly to spend more than $200 on a scope for a rifle that cost less than $200. 
I'm just going to be plinking at 25 or 50 yards anyway, I think I should probably just get a cheap red dot... It seems like they're a lot less expensive than scopes, and I don't really need magnification. 
I'd really like to spend less than $100 if I can get something good, but I suppose I can spend up to $200 if I need to."
Fair enough...

Though I disagree about it being silly to spend more for a scope than for the rifle you put it on... In fact I generally recommend you spend MORE for your scope than you did for your rifle (unless it's a high end custom rifle).

... for one thing, good optics are a lot more expensive than good guns.

But, if it's just a bone stock 10/22, you don't actually NEED "good" optics, you can get away with just "acceptable" if you have to (though you'd be surprised how little you have to spend to go from "acceptable" to "good").

And budgets are budgets...

Sometimes, you've only got $100 or $200, and you need an optic. When that's the case, it's not useful just to say "oh they're all garbage" or "don't be so cheap" (which unfortunately you'll hear a lot on firearms boards).

Conversely, it's also not good advice when people say "Oh, I love my NCStar, it works just fine, you all are idiots for spending more money" (which unfortunately you'll ALSO hear a lot of on gun forums and blogs); when in fact, NCStar "optics" are generally utter garbage that no-one should ever waste their money on.
Note: Yes, that's harsh on NCStar I know... but I stand by it. Buying junk is not even being cheap, it's just throwing away your money. If you got a "golden sample" that wasn't garbage, great for you... you're the exception.

That's the problem with quality control (and the overall field of quality management): There's no such thing as getting everything perfect all the time; there is only managing tolerances, defects, and deviations from standards. The more rigorous your standards are, and the closer to meeting that standard you have to be to pass your QC testing (and the more QC testing you do); the more expensive your manufacturing process is going to be.
A brand with good quality control will maintain very tight manufacturing tolerances, and strict standards; and they will require a minimum degree of deviation from the standard to pass their extensive quality control testing. This makes the product much more expensive, but you can count on it meeting spec, and being reliable (at least in theory...)
No-one sets out to make a crappy product that doesn't meet specs, even a junk brand like NCStar. An NCStar scope may actually meet standards, and be manufactured exactly as designed; but to keep costs minimal, they don't have much in the way of quality control... So a scope that isn't anywhere close to meeting standards will get shipped, just the same as one that is perfect and reliable and will last forever.... And you have no idea which one you'll get. If you got lucky and got a good one, great, if not, you're out of luck. Worse, you may not be able to tell you got a bad one, until you're actually depending on the product... and it fails...  
So, to business...

As always, my first recommendation is to buy for VALUE, not for price.

Sometimes cheap is good, just low cost. Sometimes cheap is just cheap. In general, you get better value paying a bit more, to get better quality and reliability.

My second recommendation, specific to a little .22 plinker; is rather than a red dot, to get a relatively low power, mid quality, variable magnification scope, with a medium sized objective; from a decent manufacturer, with a good warranty.

I just think that for most uses of a 10/22, you're going to get more use, and more enjoyment; out of a scope, than out of a red dot.

Yes, an acceptable quality scope is generally going to be more expensive than an acceptable quality red dot; but you can generally get into something reasonable for well under $200 pretty easily; and certainly under $250.

Nikon, Pentax, Redfield, Burris, and Vortex all have really quite good scopes available between $120 and $250, which will do just about anything you would want to do with a 10/22 or similar rifle... And still be useful for a longer range center fire rifle if you want to re-purpose it later.

There's no need to go down to wal-mart blister pack priced Bushnell and Simmons scopes; when you can get a Redfield or Vortex 2-7x32 with a lifetime warranty for $120, or a Nikon or Burris 3-9x40 for $140 (lifetime warranty on the Burris too).

As it happens, I use a Nikon ProStaff 3-9x40 on my 10/22, that I picked up for around $100 on special sale at Cabelas a few years ago (well under even online price actually. I think list on it is $240, and online prices are $140-$170).

It's a decent enough scope, with acceptable light gathering, acceptably smooth zoom operation, and repeatable adjustments that hold zero (that last bit is really important. Lower cost scopes are often somewhat imprecisely made internally; and their adjustment mechanisms don't produce repeatable precision, or hold zero under recoil or being banged about).

Also important, it's quick to acquire a sight picture at low magnification (the primary advantage of a red dot), but still has sufficient magnification for any distance I'd want to shoot my 10/22 at (I usually shoot it off my deck, with my suppressor. It's about 70 yards to the water; but I sometimes go over 100 yards at the range, or out in the woods, just for grins).

The secret to quick sight picture with a scope, is using relatively low power, with a relatively large objective lens, of sufficient quality to be bright, sharp, and clear, at all magnifications and in all lighting conditions you choose to shoot.

With proper scope selection, you can shoot just as quickly and simply with a scope as you can with a red dot sight.

Realistically, a 2-5x or 2-7x is perfectly adequate for most peoples .22 shooting; and a 3-9x is about the most you'll need for anything short of a benchrest competition (and most rimfire competitions don't allow optics anyway). There's really no need to go to 10x or higher; doing so will just add cost and weight, without giving you any real advantage (again, unless you're doing competitive long range rimfire shooting).

Remember, if you can see the holes your bullets make in the target at 10 yards, a 9x magnification (presuming good light, and a good quality scope), will let you see the holes at 90 yards. Most people rarely fire their .22s at longer than 25 yards (except when they're just goofing around), and very rarely at more than 50 yards, or 100 yards. Even if you can only see the holes you're making at 5 yards, a 9x will let you see them at 45 yards.

My vision isn't perfect, and with my glasses; on a high contrast target I can see individual .22 holes at somewhere between 15 and 25 yards depending on the exact target type, target background, and the lighting. With a shoot-n-c or something similar I can see the hits at well beyond 25 yards. I rarely turn my 3-9x up beyond 6x when shooting my 10/22.

A 32mm or 35mm objective lens is just fine for a 5x or 7x maximum magnification, and acceptable for 9x (unless you're shooting in dim light). A 40mm or 42mm objective is just fine for 9x max magnification; there's really no need to go bigger than 42mm for anything less than 10x (again, unless you're shooting in dim light).
Note: For a given quality level and magnification level; a bigger objective lens is going to give you a better, brighter image (particularly in dimmer light); at the expense of a higher cost, larger size, and higher weight. 
If you're going to be in bright sunlight most of the time, it won't make much difference (your pupils will be narrowed down to protect themselves from sunlight anyway, and can only use so much light); but in dim light, twilight (sunrise or sunset), a dark overcast etc... going with a bigger objective is generally a good choice. 
BUT... when you're deciding how to spend your money, you are probably better off going for a higher quality piece of glass, rather than a larger lens.
My third recommendation is that, in general, I find most optics under $100 to be... A poor value shall we say? Generally not worth the money, even at how little you may pay for them.

..But a budget is a budget; and there are at least some minimally acceptable options under $100, and a fair number well under $200.

Now, we've already talked a bit about lower cost scopes, so from here let's focus on "red dot" sights (unmagnified or low magnification optical sights that feature a lit dot or reticle, generally projected onto the back side of a glass lens, as the aiming point).

For a .22, if you're not shooting it very much, you can get away with a lot lower quality and toughness, particularly in a red dot; if you don't mind that at some point it's just going to die for no reason.

Not probably, definitely; and "some point" is going to probably be sooner than later...

By that standard, you can get at least minimally acceptable red dots under $100.

You can pick up some models of TruGlo red dot on sale for under $50 online; and most models are between $80 and $150. They're acceptable.

Millet has a line of relatively low end red dots, in the $60-$90 range. they're acceptable, and they've got a good warranty.

Simmons, same thing.

Tasco has two product lines for red dots, and the lower product line, same thing.

I group these brands together, because it seems they all use the same Chinese OEMs for their hardware.

That said, it isn't safe to assume that pieces that look the same externally ARE the same under the skin. The Chinese vendors will build several different models that look externally very similar, but may have VERY different quality of components, and overall quality control. Sometimes these different models will be at widely different price points; sometimes they are actually very close in price, but very different in quality.

I think Swift, BSA, Barska, and NCStar also use the same OEM; but as I said above, I have observed significant differences in quality between visually similar models, from what seem to be the same OEM, but sold under different brand names. Specifically, I have found that examples from these vendors are generally of unacceptable quality, and particularly of unacceptable reliability.

On the other hand, I have found the TruGlos to be of slightly higher, and frequently "acceptable" levels of quality. I even have a couple of them around to throw on guns for testing.

Others may have had different experiences of course... and as they say, the plural of anecdote is not data.

From "about the same" to "slightly higher" quality, and around the same pricing ($60 to $160) are Bushnells trophy line of red dots. They're acceptable.... Some of the higher end ones may even edge into "good" territory; and they have a decent warranty, and acceptable customer service.

Tascos higher end red dot line, the "pro points" use the same Chinese OEM as the Bushnell Trophy line. They're priced and specced similarly, and are of similar quality.

For a LOT higher quality and reliability, you can get into a Burris SpeedDot or Fastfire for as little as $180 (online, on sale); or an XTR or AR-Prism sight starting around $240.

I've owned and used several of them, and they're actually quite good. Also, Burris has great customer service and a great warranty (among the best in the business in fact).

At a similar quality level, you can get a Vortex strikefire for as little as $160. I have had several of them and like them very much. I haven't used their customer service myself, but I have heard from others that they have very good customer service (and an excellent warranty).

Now... my personal recommendation, is to skip the cheap stuff, and go straight to the midrange.

I guarantee you, if you actually use the thing, you will go through two or three of the TruGlo/Simmons/Tasco/Bushnell generic Chinese OEM sights; before you even put a ding in a Burris or Vortex...

...And in my experience, the Burris and the Vortex will take most of the punishment that a much more expensive (three to five times the price actually) Trijicon or Aimpoint will. Not all of the punishment necessarily, but most of it; and unless you're defending your life (or the lives of others) with it... I don't think the price difference is worth it. I'll take the Burris or the Vortex for most guns, in most circumstances, most of the time.

You're going to pay $60-$90 for a minimally acceptable red dot that isn't going to have repeatable adjustments, that IS going to lose zero, and that will generally fail, in a year or two at most (less if you shoot it more); that is only usable on your .22...

... or you're going to pay $100 more for a red dot that you probably can't kill (unless you're actually trying to), that WILL retain zero and make repeatable adjustments, and that you can use on anything you've got, now or in the future.

If you HAVE the $100 it's not even a question. If you don't, well then, you just don't have it.

But it still comes down to, buy for value, not for price.

North Idaho, Early Morning

It's a couple hours 'til dawn still (now that we're off DST anyway), and again, I can't sleep.

But there are times when that's a good thing...

Because right now, I am watching... well, mostly listening to, since he's so hard to see... a great horned owl, perched on the top rail of my fence and looking over my yard.

He's a huge thing... must be over 2 feet tall on the fence, and a great big barrel body. Every once in a while he's spreading out his wings and hopping further down the fence, and he may have a four or even five foot wingspan... it's hard to tell.

I only know he's a male from the hoot; it's very low and deep, and doesn't rise in pitch. He's pretty big for a male (like most owls, females are usually larger than males).

I know where his normal nest is; up in a tree behind my shop, and I've heard him and seen him before up there; but never out in the open down in the yard like this.

I'd wager he's hunting for voles and field mice down there... The yard is full of them, especially the lower yard, which is fenced off from the dogs.

We let our lawn overgrow a bit (okay, more than a bit) late in the season (drought protection), and then chopped it down with a brush mower, leaving the trim on the lawn for the winter (we're going to overseed it in early spring); so there's a lot of cover for them, and they've taken up residence quite happily. You can't walk around the yard more than a few feet without hearing desperate scurrying.

Mr. Owl is also hooting at a quite high volume... every minute or so.

...And another great horned owl is hooting back at him from across the lake and further down. Sounds like a female, because her hoot is higher, and rising in pitch.

The sounds of the lake, the gentle breeze, the ducks and geese swimming down there; and these two owls hooting into the night like train whistles.

It's really... quite something.

Firearms Basics - Part 1: Introduction

I've been a shooter for almost 30 years, and a competitive shooter off and on for about 15 years. I'm an engineer by education and experience; and I'm a professional gunsmith, and firearms trainer. I've sold guns at the retail level, repaired them, customized them, modified them, even built them from the bare metal.

Firearms are one of the strongest pursuits and passions in my life.

God knows, I've written literally millions of words on firearms over the past... almost 20 years I guess (I started writing about guns on the internet in forums and newsgroups starting around 1993). I've been running running or co-running firearms forums for over 10 years. The last 8 years (well... 8 years in February) I've been writing on this blog (3600 or so posts so far; probably half of them about guns, and most of those over 1000 words).

I'm published on guns and shooting both online and in print; and I'm one of the most referenced and quoted sources on the technical aspects of firearms online.

I think I'm justified in calling myself a firearms expert; without others having to put scare quotes or "self proclaimed" around that.

I say this not for self aggrandizement, but to explain to those who don't know me, the context of the rest of this post.

While I'm a great'big'ol gunnut; guns are by no means my only personal or professional pursuits or interests; and I'm involved in several different interest centered "cultures" and social circles.

Generally speaking, outside of my "gun culture" social circles, I'm "the gun guy"; or at least "one of the gun guys" in any group.

And of course, I write a lot about firearms basics, mythbusting, basic equipment etc...

All of this leads to me getting a lot of questions from people who are entirely new to firearms, or who are just casually into them...

... or me hearing conversations (or seeing internet threads) just completely full of (generally well intentioned) utter crap. Bad advice,  "received wisdom" (which may have been true at one point, but may or may not be now), opinion and myth passed off as fact; even sometimes truly stupid, illegal, or potentially dangerous advice.

That's unfortunately the general level of discourse on most websites that aren't specifically gun related (and sadly, many that ARE... but that's another story entirely).

The good thing is though, being recognized as the "office expert" so to speak, in such groups; I can generally speak with some authority, and maybe give some GOOD advice, that maybe someone will take.

I figure, as a representative of "serious" gun culture, and "gun experts" etc... I kind of have a duty to do so when I can; and I enjoy doing so... at least when we can keep the general level of stupidity to a reasonable level.

Often these questions, and these discussions, fit into the post categories I already have (and have had for years now); "so you want to write about guns" or "firearms mythbusting".

Sometimes they don't however, and for those things, I'm starting a new series, "Firearms Basics".

I expect I'll be covering some of the same territory I've done with mythbusting etc... But mostly this series will be focused specifically on providing a foundation of basic firearms knowledge; and to answer questions that firearms beginners, or casual firearms owners/shooters might have.

I'll be posting the first in this series in a few minutes; but I want to put this out to my readers, and to the readers of THEIR blogs...

What basic firearms questions and issues would you like to see covered? Technical, political, legal, historical... model specific, ammo specific, whatever... so long as it's a relatively specific question, that won't take a full book to answer...

...Or maybe even then, if it's a good enough, interesting enough issue; that I know enough about to answer that comprehensively.

What basic or common questions would you like answered?

What pieces of received wisdom, or or common firearms advice would you like to see explained, verified, or corrected (this is where we overlap with the mythbusting bit)?

I figure I'll collect them all, and just start writing the posts to answer the folks, as the time is available and the inspiration strikes; with a goal of doing at least one a week.

So please, give me your questions; and those of you with your own blogs, if you feel it would provide value to your readers, link or repost this, and/or gather your readers questions.

If there's an area I don't know enough to cover properly, I may bring in a guest poster, or guest contributor to a post; and if you are an expert in a particular area and would like to help with this, drop me a line.

I've got a list of possible ideas myself of course, but I want to see all your ideas first.

...this could be kinda fun...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Seed is Strong

Almost every set of expecting parents has a list of traits they'd like to see the baby inherit from each parent. From "I really hope he has my eyes" to "I really hope he didn't get my nose".

My family traits are... highly inheritable, let's put it that way. Gene expressions commonly considered to be recessive tend to pop up in the children of my family line. From the extreme hairiness my middle brother inherited from the last infusion of semitic blood generations ago (which he managed to pass on to his youngest boy) to the color-changing eyes I managed to pass on to my younger daughter, to the either blue, green, or both eyes all of us have, my family genetics are strong.

Anyone who has seen Chris's father knows that the Byrne genes are equally strong, if not overbearing. If you'd seen his uncles you'd also understand that the Cheshire Cat grin is highly inheritable.

So when it comes to the combination of our genetics anything is possible.

We were really, really hoping the baby would inherit my sleeping characteristics, if only for our own sanity.

Chris is an insomniac and needs little sleep, and has since he was born. On top of that he doesn't seem to have a circadian rhythm to speak of. Even with his thyroid meds regulating everything the idea of a natural sleep schedule seems to be lost on his body. He's also a night owl with a distinct preferences for staying up into the AM.

Me? My circadian rhythm is made of steel, and while I can trick it and reset it occasionally I still need at least 8 hours of sleep, preferably at approximately the same time every night. My genetic children and I are also easily reset by sunlight. When the girls were babies in AZ I ended up covering the windows with blankets so they wouldn't keep waking up at 5am and falling asleep at 10pm. I've done the same to myself so I could adjust to a graveyard shift schedule and back again. I could also sleep through a nuclear explosion, which at least means I sleep through Chris's night owl tendencies.

We were really, really hoping the baby would be similarly easy to sleep train.

Evidently we're going to be stuck somewhere in the middle.

Every night for two weeks my sleep schedule has become a steady 4am to noon. This does not make me happy.

I initially blamed the disturbance on Chris, whose schedule has somehow become 4am to 9am. Nope, I had the cause completely wrong.

Last night I fell asleep, in bed, at 8pm while Chris dozed on the couch. I woke up at 10pm to do the nightly head count (Wash still likes to escape the yard so I always check the number of dogs before I go to sleep), stayed up for a few hours, then attempted to go back to sleep at midnight.

The pregnancy is at 18 weeks so not only is the baby moving a lot but I can now feel it hitting the sides of my uterus. Continuously.

Which it likes to do. Every night between midnight and 4am. With no break longer than 15 minutes.

Our baby has a strong internal sleep schedule, which includes being awake and very active in the middle of the night.


I'm really, really hoping that once born the baby will respond to sunlight as a way to reset the sleep schedule.

But I'm not holding my breath.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Among the Missing

It's 2am, and I can't sleep.


As usual.

I've had the oddest sleep schedule lately... If you can call it that anyway. I've been getting a few hours, from early morning to mid morning basically.

Anyway... I got to thinking tonight (dangerous I know)...

I really miss my family.

It's not that I'm morose or anything... Just reflective.

Now, I don't mean my wife and kids (though I do miss my kids; I spend all day every day with my wife right now... and love every minute with her, but we're not apart enough to miss her); I mean the rest of my family.

Over the last two years, I've lost both my mother and my brother. I miss them... even my brother.

He was a criminal, and an abuser, and a thief... but I still loved him. He was still my brother, and I still miss him.

The last few years of my mothers life were... bad. Really bad actually. There were times when she was in such pain... There were times, after a seizure or a stroke; where she didn't even know who I was.

When she finally went, it was a blessing. At least she wasn't in pain anymore; and I went through most of my grieving long before she passed.

But I still miss her.

Over the past two years, I've also managed to lose another quarter of my family... just in a different way.

I won't go into details... just that through their actions (or inactions, or words); I finally came to the point where it was necessary to permanently exclude them from my life.

... and I miss them.

I haven't seen my father for more than a few hours, in... I don't even know right now...

I was able to visit him this past March, when I was in Boston for the memorial for my mother that never happened (which is part of why the thing above turned out as it did)... I spent some good time with him then... and a few good hours the year before for my brothers funeral...

I talk with him all the time... When I can get him to pick up the damn phone... (he doesn't pick up the phone most of the time, and he doesn't respond to messages or return calls... Never has).

But I haven't actually spent any time with him that wasn't spent in mourning in...

I don't know, I think it's about 13 years?

I think it was in late 1999?

I miss him.

I grew up with a big family. They were all around me all the time. We were... awfully close, in both senses of that term I suppose is the way to put it.

We beat the hell out of each other, both physically and emotionally.

But I still miss them.

I left home at 16, went off to college, the Air Force... Lived all around the world, all around the country.

..Up until recently, never in the same place for more than a couple years. Up until seven years ago (it'll be 7 years in 8 days actually), mostly alone (I was with my first wife for four years... but frankly spent far more time away from her than with her... One reason why I was only with her for four years).

Mostly, I haven't spent all the much time with my family since; excepting a few extended visits here and there, and a year or so when I lived back in Massachusetts, to work for a couple of startups.

In fact, for 20 years, I haven't really spent much time with any of them.

And frankly... for the most part... they don't really know me at all. There are entire five year periods in my life where most of them don't even know where I was or what I was doing... Most of them barely know my wife at all... Some of them seem to have a hard time remembering I have one.

And now, as I'm reaching middle age (I guess technically, by average life expectancy of my birth cohort, I'm "middle aged" in two years), I find I miss them more.

Not even so much their company (though certainly that)... but in having them  to share things with; good and bad.

Of course, I share with my wife and friends, who I love dearly (and I love my in laws very much, and my stepmother and stepsister; and those of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who are still in my life); and they are my chosen family without doubt... but it's not quite the same thing.

I find, when I have big news, or around a holiday, or when something goes wrong... It's like there's something missing.

That they're not there to tell about it, that's what's missing.

And that's what I'm missing.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Perils of Being a Pilot's (Only) Daughter (and Wife)

Expecting the birth of grandchild #8, my 71 year old father has decided to buy a Luscombe 8A from a friend. He's decided it will be more worthwhile and cheaper than buying a car.

That statement only makes sense if 1. you know pilots or 2 (being gunnies here). you change the statement to "expecting _______, I've decided to buy an AR-10." Dad buying a plane is just a desire looking for an excuse and a justification.

But anyhoo...

Dad is an A&P-IA (an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic and Inspection Authority); and has been for over 45 years (and a pilot for 50 years); since getting his degree in aviation maintenance and management from the University of Illinois (where he met my mother, who was also a student; and was from a small town nearby).

Not only does he repair planes, he's also qualified and certified to do all sorts of inspections required by the FAA (that's the IA part of A&P-IA). This is what he's done my entire life and my brothers' entire lives.

In fact, he's been doing it since the army, where they let him work on the fun stuff (as an aircraft mechanic, from '60 to '64; with a couple years break between high school and the Army, that he spent travelling around the country on a motor scooter).

My father is the most boring interesting person you will ever meet; and I mean that in the nicest possible way. He's actually had a really interesting life, doing lots of unusual and interesting things... but he's very quiet and unassuming, methodical, detail oriented (anal really.. )... You'd never know he was anything but a conservative, churchgoing, older gentleman.... And he'd certainly never tell you unless you asked.

My dad has had three consuming passions in his life: My late mother (and our family), god, and airplanes.

From the moment my brothers and I were born he'd take us up in whatever small airplane was available to him at the time, for short flights around the Phoenix area. Sometimes we wouldn't even leave the proximity of our base airport, just do touch-and-go's as practice. He started training me on using the radio at age 6 and plotting flight plans at age 8.

My parents ran an aircraft rental operation for about 5 years; from around the time I was 6 'til I was about 11 (and he has run an FBO in Kearny Arizona since 2000). My elementary schools would occasionally get phone calls to not send me home on the bus because Dad and whatever pilot friend would be taking me and the other airport brats flying after school. I grew up thinking of this as normal.

I started climbing into the nose cones of airplanes with screwdrivers when I was six, because I was the only one with small enough hands to do the work. I was doing engine compression tests at 14. My brothers started using me to pump brakes for brake fluid changes at 12 (yes they were complicit in this forced child labor).

I started working on a variety of GM engines at 14. I learned to drive in an old Chevy truck; with a three speed manual,  no power steering, no power brakes. My father and brothers wouldn't let me get my driver's license until they'd seen me responsibly and effectively jack up a truck, use jack stands, and change a few tires. Their concern was one part not wanting me to be vulnerable to anyone on the side of the road and one part not wanting to need to come rescue me. By this time I'd figured out this wasn't normal for teenage girls but I went with it because I didn't have much of a choice. .

On the other hand I don't get taken advantage of by mechanics, I can work on Chevy and GMC crate motors in my sleep, I know how to change out an engine and replace all the seals, and I can drive any consumer vehicle on the market.

...Oh, and my husband found me already properly trained in how to identify, retrieve, and hand him tools. This comes in handy more times than you would think.

I don't know if we've ever told this story on the blog, but the perfect illustration of the personality of my father is encapsulated in what he did when he first met Chris.

After 24 years of being my father's daughter I knew how to bring up the fact that I was seeing someone. I started out by mentioning that Chris was ex-Air Force, went to Embry Riddle, and graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering. My father took this in and said nothing because, well, he is a man of few words like so many other war babies.

When I brought Chris to meet my father, Dad put him through a series of "tests".

Our family owns a 1928 Oldsmobile F28 touring sedan that my grandfather (24 years old at the time) bought from the original owner shortly before my father was born in 1941. It was my grandfathers first car, and then my fathers first car. It's still my father's car technically, and will most likely end up mine eventually. It's got a magneto ignition inline six, with a 3 speed, non-synchro, dog-clutch transmission, and it sort of kind of has brakes (at least it has an electrical system with electric start).

When I took Chris to meet my parents for the first time, it was sitting in the driveway when we reached their house.

Dad asked Chris if he wanted to drive it. Chris's enthusiasm and ability to drive it (actually just the fact that he knew how to start it; then that he knew how to properly drive a nonsyncro trans and double clutch, and use compression breaking) passed Dad's scrutiny, so he has Chris drive it to the airport.

Dad had an arrangement with one of his friends to borrow a Cessna P210 whenever he needed it. Dad decided that he, Chris, JohnOC (he was with us at the time), and I, would be flying that afternoon. Dad had Chris do the pre-flight checks and watched him do it. That also passed scrutiny. Then, once we were in the air, he told Chris to take over the controls.

That's when my father decided Chris wasn't full of shit and was therefore "acceptable." If I hadn't been in the plane, he would most undoubtedly have pulled the same thing he did with a former boyfriend of mine where he took him up and intentionally cut out the engines to see how he would react. That's my father for you.

Fast forward a few years. Between us, there's now seven grandchildren. Five of those are my middle brother and sister-in-law's (my older and oldest brother are both unmarried with no kids; and likely will remain that way). Four of theirs are boys. My father is more than somewhat dismayed, because dear SIL is a fearful creature and doesn't want her boys (never mind her daughter, who she assumes would never be interested in such things... She's going to be a perfect dainty little lady) playing with that "dangerous and dirty" stuff, i.e. internal combustion engines, planes, trains, and automobiles.

In my father's eyes this is a tragedy, not only because the girl is never even considered (relentless in his quest for sexual equality, I got to play with most of the stuff my brothers played with) but also because his grandbabies aren't being taught to be self-reliant mechanics.

Then I got pregnant again.

It took him a while for the wheels to turn in his head, but I'm sure he got there eventually. A grandchild he would have unlimited access to, with parents who would not only not object, but encourage him; to take the child flying and teach him/her how to be a proper mechanic. Dad would finally be able to fulfill what he considers to be his life mission: teach all of his heirs how to take care of themselves.

Thus why he needed to buy an airplane.

Thus why he called us up, asking us for the code of the local airport and then spending a long time on the phone with Chris going over details.

Now, a Luscombe 8 is a very small airplane. It's got no electrical system, no radios, limited instruments; it's only got two seats, and a 65 to 90 horsepower engine (Dad is looking at a 65hp model, but may upgrade the engine; it's a common modification He'll have a portable radio and GPS with him). It's got a max cruise speed of about 120mph, a maximum economy cruise at about 90mph (about 3.5 gallons per hour); and while it technically will climb to about 10,000 feet, you really don't want to climb much over 6,500 feet with it.

The problem is, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Montana, AND Washington ALL have TONS of MOA (Military Operations Areas) and restricted areas... And he's looking at an airplane where you don't want to have to climb over say 6500 feet... And the average en-route altitude is about 7000 feet.

Last night Chris and I plotted what we considered a proper course so we had an idea of distance and time. It's been a while since I've planned a trip using flight charts but it's nice to do it on a computer instead of with an armload of unfolded maps and a ruler and pencil. It's also very odd to have my husband ask me about my father's flight and airport preferences, and know the answers.

I'm sure in another 6 years both Chris and my father will be teaching Baby Byrne how to use the flight radio and plot a course that avoids certain elevations and no-fly zones.

Some things never change.