Saturday, September 16, 2017

Music: Good With God

South Florida is still cleaning up from Irmageddon, but everyone here is breathing a sigh of relief. If the storm turned northward a half day earlier, we would've been hit hard, though not nearly as bad as the folks in the Keys (please donate if you can).

It's not every day that you have your life impacted so much by something you have no control over. Today's musical selection, from the alt-country band Old 97's, is a tongue-in-cheek look at the helplessness one might feel when being faced with a higher power:

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Guns: S&W M&P22 Compact review (threaded barrel) - Suppressor Ready, Congress Isn't

Introduction - Waiting for [Duncan-Carter]

A frustrating thing about teaching new shooters is that they usually can't understand you all that well, thanks to the hearing protection necessary for safe practice. Of course, you can tell people the basics beforehand in the classroom, or while a firing line is cold, but there's no substitute for live feedback as someone is pulling a trigger. And while there is electronic hearing protection, it usually has to be supplemented by earplugs, especially on a busy indoor range. If only there was some device you could attach to a firearm to bring the muzzle blast down to non-deafening levels...

I'm talking about suppressors, of course, and the version of the S&W M&P22 Compact for today's review is tailor-made for them, as it has a 3/8” x 24 threaded barrel and an adapter kit. So while we are all waiting for the various Hearing Protection Act bills to promulgate a technology that's been in common use for a century (including in European countries with otherwise pervasive gun control), here's my take on a training gun that is ready for when our laws change:

Features and Foibles

The M&P22 Compact is Smith and Wesson's second .22 doppelgänger, after the full-size M&P22. Unlike its bigger brother, which is a dead ringer for a full-size M&P pistol, the Compact's dimensions are not quite the same as the ever-popular Shield. That's a bit of a miss - this gun would have been an awesome trainer had it fit in all the same holsters.

The rest of the pistol's layout is very familiar. There is a usable, M&P-service-pistol-sized thumb safety, as well as an adjustable rear sight with a typical three-white-dot sight picture. The hinged trigger is much the same as a centerfire M&P, but I haven't had the opportunity to compare it to the new "2.0" versions Smith released this year.

Range Report

Sadly, I did not get the chance to test the M&P22 Compact with a suppressor. Nevertheless, I found that the pistol was mostly reliable, although not quite as problem-free as my old Ruger SR22. Accuracy was also okay for a non-target .22 of this size, but again, the groups I shot were not as good as the SR22.


There are a number of small .22s out there with threaded barrels out of the box, and the S&W sits firmly in the middle of the pack. It's a good choice for people who like M&P ergonomics, but maybe not a hands-down recommendation for everyone. If Congress ever gets around to removing suppressors from the National Firearms Act, I'll see about re-reviewing the M&P22 with a can in place.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Feel the storm? It's coming

Monday, September 04, 2017

Links: Gun Blogrollin'

After taking some firearms training courses this year, I realize I've been laboring under a sort of "Gunning"-Kruger effect: the illusion that I am a better shooter than I really am. Of course, the only way to remedy that is to train more and learn more, hence today's links to information-packed gun blog goodness (h/t to Bores and Blades, which itself is a worthy edition to the Shangrila Towers blogroll):

Active Response Training - Experienced police instructor Greg Ellifritz is one of the premier shooting and tactical skills trainers in the Ohio area. His webpage is a great source of original content and aggregated info from around the web - check out the super-useful "Weekend Knowledge Dumps" if you don't believe me.

tacticalprofessor - Claude Werner has a "very particular set of skills" (U.S. Army Special Ops, real estate research director, IDPA competitor, shooting instructor), and he brings them all to bear in his online publications and website, tacticalprofessor. I think most readers will appreciate Werner's scholarly approach to the fundamentals of pistolcraft.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Miscellany: 2017 Volvo S90 T5 review - Bil På Svenska

The guys and I took a big road trip across the Great Smoky Mountains last month for the solar eclipse, and we decided to do it in style, upgrading our rental car to the Volvo S90. Covering almost 1,000 miles in four days tells you a lot about a car, so here are the high and low points of Volvo's flagship sedan:


Standard Equipment

At the rental center, we had a choice between the Volvo and the Cadillac CTS. We opted for the S90 because even a low-level model has all the tech you could expect from a $40,000+ car: keyless entry, heads-up display, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, blindspot detection...the list goes on. It's a refreshing change if you're used to being nickel-and-dimed by the German automakers.

Interior Space

The S90 is sized like a 5-series or an E-class, but thanks to its front wheel-drive layout, there is an insane amount of space for the rear seats. The person behind me could literally put one foot in front of the other in his footwell, and even had enough space to work on a laptop. If you're used to big family sedans like the Toyota Avalon, you'll feel right at home here.

Fuel Economy

The base S90 T5's turbo inline four (the T6 trim adds a supercharger) is remarkably thrifty. We hooned the Volvo through twisty mountain passes (including the famous "Tail of the Dragon"), long stretches of Carolina highway, and the urban jungles of Atlanta, and through it all the car managed to get a healthy 27 mpg. While premium gas is required, it's an impressive figure from a car as large as this.



While the S90's cabin is relatively well-insulated from wind and road noise even at triple-digit speeds, the powertrain doesn't do the car any favors. The engine can sound positively buzzy at high revs, and you never get the feeling of effortless power that you should out of a mid-size luxury car.

Handling and Acceleration

Perhaps the biggest knock against the S90 is what it's not - a sports sedan. With SUVs dominating the market (including the S90's stablemate, the XC90), there are few reasons to get a big luxury car if you're not scratching the performance itch. But Volvo has tuned the S90 to be a luxury cruiser, not a corner-carver or drag racer. It's quick and handles okay, but there is no getting away from the fact that it's not as engaging to drive as its competition.


We liked the Volvo a lot. While perhaps not the right car for people who put performance above all else, it was a huge upgrade from the bland econoboxes that form most rental car fleets. I'm not sure I'd ever actually buy one, but I'll be certain to give its smaller, sportier siblings a try the next time I'm car-shopping.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miscellany: Anna Ruby Falls

The uncharitable would call the town of Helen, Georgia a tourist trap, what with its kitschy faux-Bavarian architecture and obvious focus on catering to Atlanta weekenders. If you can look past that stuff, you can take a visit to the nearby Chattahoochee National Forest and its crown jewel, Anna Ruby Falls.

The hike to the falls is easy and scenic - a paved path neighboring sun-kissed rapids.

Legend has it that a local Confederate soldier, Colonel John Nichols, found the waterfalls while riding in the area. He gave them both the name Anna Ruby, after his only daughter.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Movies: Crowdfunded Creeping Cosmic Horror Double Feature

The '80s were the golden age of special makeup effects. Rob Bottin's "The Thing," Rick Baker's "An American Werewolf in London," Tony Gardner's gruesome "The Blob" ... if you wanted disfigured latex faces and slimy puppets, you were spoiled for choice.

Nowadays, though, to see a guy in a rubber suit terrorize people, you're going to have to support it yourself. Unlike the CGI-fests at the multiplex, today's two movies were funded, in part, by horror fans who are keeping the practical effects tradition alive.

Harbinger Down

Okay, let's be frank - Lance Henriksen has been in far better movies, but you have to give him credit for playing it (mostly) straight in "Harbinger Down":

In the frigid waters of the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler encounters a crashed Soviet lander carrying mysterious cargo. Now, you don't have to be a genius to figure out what happens next, but the threadbare plot and so-so performances are only barely holding up their end of the bargain. The film lacks the tense drama that made "The Thing" such a classic; it never aspires to be anything more than a passable B-movie.

I do respect Amalgamated Dynamics' creature effects, though, which are all the more poignant considering that (1) their work was mostly cut out of "The Thing" prequel and (2) they funded the effects with their own money and $380,000 raised from Kickstarter backers.

Rating: 5/10

The Void

My friends and I are big fans of the Fantasy Flight Cthulhu Mythos board games, and "The Void" is sort of like a giant mash-up of all the tropes in those games. Produced by Canada's Astron-6 along with $82,000 in Indiegogo money, the movie never slips into parody or self-awareness, but it does wear its influences on its sleeve:

In "The Void," a small-town cop brings in a strung-out junkie to a near-deserted hospital, only to find that the place is surrounded by murderous robed figures. Who are they? What do they want? It probably has something to do with the ominous triangles everywhere, but at 90 minutes, there isn't a lot of time to find out, much less care about most of the characters. Still, all the Lovecraftian elements of John Carpenters' Apocalypse Trilogy are here: cultists, body horror, parallel worlds, insanity, and, of course, a whole bunch of tentacles.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Books: Washington's Spies - The Story of America's First Spy Ring

Historian Alexander Rose starts off "Washington's Spies" with a disaster - the legendary capture and execution of young patriot spy Nathan Hale in 1776:

The way Rose tells, it, Hale's ill-fated intelligence-gathering operation was doomed from the start - limited planning, resources, and training meant that Hale was easy prey for the British. And even if Hale had made it back, it was unlikely that the information gained from his single trip behind enemy lines would be helpful to the nascent Revolution. From this painful beginning, a new model emerged: civilian spies living with the enemy using assumed identities to relay information on a regular basis.

"Washington's Spies" tells the story of the men and women in the close-knit "Culper Ring" spy network, many of whom are still unknown. I enjoyed the descriptions of dead drops, coded letters, and spymasters - tradecraft among the privateers and black-market smugglers of British-occupied New York. A couple caveats - it's not a thriller, and it's a dense read (primary sources are quoted as much as possible), so if you want the Cliff's Notes version, you can try watching the AMC drama "TURN: Washington's Spies."

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Movies: Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is best known for his comedy-action collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "The World's End"), so you might be surprised by the earnest thrills and romance of his latest movie, "Baby Driver":

Okay, so it's not played entirely straight (there's a hilarious gag involving "Mike Myers Halloween masks"), but in most ways "Baby Driver" is a classic heist-and-car-chase movie. There's an embattled protagonist who just has to do one last job, the love interest whom he has to keep his criminal life secret from, and his crooked cohorts who get in the way in the third act. Judged solely on plot and deeper meaning, the film isn't exactly on par with a "Heat," "Ronin," or "Drive."

Where "Baby Driver" does differentiate itself is in its stylish soundtrack, a wall-to-wall mix of classic rock, soul, and more obscure cuts that transforms the film into a two-hour long music video. Throw in an extremely talented cast (it must be nice to have the likes of Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Jon Hamm play your supporting characters), and you have one heck of an entertaining, crowd-pleasing movie.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Music: Living in Twilight

Posting will be light for awhile, thanks to my profession, but while you wait, why not enjoy some cuts from "Living in Twilight," the new album from jazz pianist Ariel Pocock?

Here's a swinging interpretation of the Cole Porter standard, "I Love You":

And here's the album's title track, a cover of The Weepies' "Living in Twilight":


Overall, it's a pretty good album, with the sort of sensitive treatment you might expect from someone who has drawn comparisons to Diana Krall:


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