Saturday, May 19, 2018

Guns: The Tacticool Remington 870 Wingmaster, Part 1 - The Barrel

Remington's recent quality control woes have been well-chronicled, but they don't diminish the many decades of fine gunmaking that have come before. Hopefully things will be better after the company's Chapter 11. In any case, there are still many millions of pre-Cerberus Remington firearms out there, ready for a good home. For my part, I picked up an old 870 Wingmaster some years back, and I thought it'd be fun to convert it into a full-blown home defense shotgun.

The first thing I decided to change was the barrel. Originally, my Wingmaster came with a 30" tube, in a modified choke. That arrangement is perfect for hunting upland game or breaking clays at the trap field, but it's suboptimal for repelling boarders in the dark of the night.

So, I ordered an 18-1/2" improved cylinder barrel from MidwayUSA. The blued finish matches up pretty well with my decades-old 870 receiver, and lopping almost a foot off the barrel makes the gun a lot handier indoors. The improved cylinder choke may or may not have an effect on the 00 buckshot pattern, but it's a moot point since tight chokes are hard to find in 18" barrels.

Upgrades still to come - stock and foreend, weaponlight, magazine tube and sidesaddle, sling...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

TV: Into the Badlands

It's rare for a TV show to find its feet right out of the gate. For every series with a stellar first episode and first season, like "Breaking Bad," there are twenty that need awhile to get going.

Case in point: I watched the first episode of AMC's "Into the Badlands" back when it debuted in 2015, and I liked it okay, but I didn't keep watching at the time. Since then, it's turned into a pretty darn good action series:

The show is one part "Mad Max" and one part wuxia, and follows the exploits of a "Clipper" named Sunny (Daniel Wu, also executive producer). Clippers like Sunny are the warrior/bodyguards of a group of feudal Barons in a post-apocalyptic United States. For whatever reason, the Barons have banished guns from their domain, and the Clippers fight exclusively using Hong Kong wire fu and melodrama. Sunny's life changes forever when he meets a boy named M.K., who might have the key to finding a mythical utopia called Azra.

It's a bonkers premise, even for a network whose two most popular shows have "Walking Dead" in their titles, but it's gotten a lot better since that first episode. Season two introduced much-needed comic relief in the form of Nick Frost's Bajie. More importantly, the show's young actors, Aramis Knight and Ally Ioannides, have gotten much better at their craft, and the plots have moved on from the first season's boring political intrigues. The show is now almost a pure martial arts fantasy, and well worth a second look.

Books: The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds graphic novel)

Author/illustrator Gareth Hinds has adapted several classic works of literature into graphic novels, but my favorite is his sprawling rendition of "The Odyssey." In 250 oversize color pages, Hinds transforms the millennia-old poem (which many people dreaded reading in high school) into a set of panels that feel as fresh and vital as any modern Marvel superhero tale.

Unlike a lot of adaptations, which lean too heavily on their artwork, Hinds matches beautiful watercolor painting with equally evocative text. He borrows from and gives credit to the most beloved translations of Homer's work, including those by Robert Fagles and Robert Fitzgerald. The result is a comic that blends the strengths of both media: striking images that transport the reader back to ancient Greece, and dialogue and descriptions that convey what a picture cannot.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Miscellany: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe review - Taking the "sport" out of SUV

It took the body shop a solid five days to repair my BMW 328i's bumper, so I had quite a bit of time with my rental car, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe.

This is the last model year of this generation of the Santa Fe; Hyundai is sending a redesigned model to the U.S. later this year. That might lead to some enticing dealer offers to get rid of the old inventory, so here's what I liked and didn't like about this common three-row SUV:


Interior Space: In the dollars-per-cubic feet metric, the Santa Fe does pretty well. I thought the driver, passenger, and second row seats all had plenty of leg and head room. The third row isn't terribly comfortable, but it's usable, and with the seats folded the cargo room balloons to 80 cubes.

Ride: In 2018, you don't have to spend Mercedes-level money to get a cushy ride. There's an expansion joint on my way home from work that I use to gauge how compliant a suspension is - the Santa Fe handled it like a champ.

Infotainment: My rental car annoyingly defaulted to its expired Sirius radio for some reason, but otherwise the car's Bluetooth streaming system and touch screen interface were quick and responsive. The physical controls for climate, volume, and tuning were simple and easy to use.


Performance: The good news is that every Santa Fe comes with a 3.3-liter V6 that makes nearly 300 horsepower.  The bad news is that the V6 is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that shifts sluggishly and, like many Korean cars, provides lower-than-average fuel economy for the class.

Interior: The Santa Fe is a no-frills experience. Even thought I kinda liked the cobra-hood design of the central console, I'll admit to wishing for comfier chairs and nicer trim. While it was solid for what it was, I was happy to get back to my car when all was said and done.

Guns: Two is one, one is none...

I was shooting my first flight of trap at Markham Park the other day, and an odd thing happened to one of my 870 Wingmasters. It went something like this:

"Pull!"...*click*... (point in safe direction, shuck shell out of chamber)... "Pull! ... *click*...(point in safe direction, shuck shell into hand, examine unblemished primer)...

As I suspected, it turned out my 30-year-old 870's firing pin broke in two, such that the hammer's impact was not making it to the primer.

My day would have been a total waste, had I not brought an extra shotgun with me. It was a good reminder - even something as ostensibly reliable as a wood-and-steel pump shotgun can become a paperweight if a $10 part breaks inside it. Methinks I'll be carrying my backup gun more often...

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Politics: "I am the majority"

See Mark Robinson's stirring speech on the Second Amendment at a Greensboro city council meeting:

...and comment on ATF's proposed bump stock ban - comments close on June 27, 2018.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Miscellany: Surefire E1D LED Defender review

Ten years ago, I bid farewell to my old Surefire E2D flashlight, and it looks like Surefire has done the same with my current everyday carry torch, the apparently-discontinued E1D LED Defender:

I've tried a lot of flashlights over the years (including boutique stuff like Elzettas and Malkoffs), but Surefire remains my go-to brand for serious use. The E1D (and its single CR123A cousins, the EB1 and E1B) hit the sweet spot for me - small enough to clip to a pants pocket, yet bright enough to function as a self-defense light. The E1D in particular has an intense hotspot that throws further than you think - perfect for reaching down a dark alley.

It's not just a "tactical" light, though - I've used the E1D as a primary flashlight in a lot of situations, and it's never let me down. The two-way clip allows it to be carried bezel-up or down (I prefer bezel-down, as it rides deeper in the pocket), and to be mounted on a cap brim for hands-free use. This came in especially handy during two dark nights at a Byron Kerns survival class.

The tailcap switch cycles between two outputs - a 300 lumen high and a 5 lumen low - and defaults to high on the first press. The switch is capable of momentary use, and can also be clicked all the way for constant on. Like the bezel, the tailcap is crenellated, which allows the light to tailstand and also protects the switch from being accidentally activated.

I've bought newer Surefires, including the 400-lumen E1B with Maxvision and the brand-new Tactician, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The E1D may be gone from Surefire's website, but it's going to remain in my stable for at least the next few years.

Tech: The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild review

A lot of video games are called "system sellers," but "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" for the Nintendo Switch is one of the few that deserve the title. For the first month of its release, the game actually outsold the Switch console itself, which can only be explained by (1) the Switch's notoriously scarce availability at launch, and/or (2) eager fans grabbing the "Special Edition" of the game in addition to a standard copy.

For my part, I snagged a Nintendo Switch and "Breath of the Wild" a month after release, and can now confirm that it's so good that it's almost worth buying a $300 Switch just to play it:

The fact that this review is being written in 2018 is one of the big reasons why the game is so special - it's absolutely massive. As Link, you adventure through the largest open world Nintendo has ever made, a devastated, post-apocalyptic Hyrule that has largely reverted to its natural state. As the title suggests, the wilderness is ever-present - you can ride horses, hunt deer for food, or freeze to death on a mountain slope, all without encountering a single traditional Zelda "enemy" or "dungeon."

The audacious scale of "Breath of the Wild" is matched by the bold way in which the game re-imagines Zelda's gameplay. In past 3D Zeldas, things moved along from dungeon to dungeon in rote manner, usually with painfully slow tutorial sequences that explained every jot and tittle of the game's mechanics. Not so here. "Breath of the Wild" takes off the training wheels and gives you almost-total freedom from the start. Link can climb up anything, including trees, houses, and mountains, and you can skip the main storyline altogether and beeline your way to the game's final boss with just your crappy wooden sword as armament.

You'd be annihilated though, and you'd miss the wondrous sights and sounds that Nintendo has spent years crafting. While the Switch is not a technical powerhouse, "Breath of the Wild" has lush cel-shaded graphics that look fine on a TV and absolutely blow away any tablet or cellphone game. And the minimalist score, while not initially as bombastic as you might expect, swells at just the right places:

I have a few minor nitpicks (framerate dips, repetitive sidequests, and a sometimes cumbersome UI), but they are outweighed by more praise than can fit in a blog post (the clever dungeons and shrine mini-dungeons, the physics system, an unexpectedly mature story about the weight of duty). To cut a long story short, this is one of the best games I've ever played, and absolutely worth picking up.

Rating: 94/100

Friday, March 23, 2018

Links: Gun Blogrollin'

Things are getting crazy for gun owners.

Big banks and stores are turning against us for exercising a constitutionally protected right. Tech companies are silencing us for posting about 100% completely legal activities, like handloading ammunition. We've always joked about antigunners pleading "it's for the children" in every debate, but now they are shamelessly shipping kids across the country to disarm the next generation.

Everyone who supports the Second Amendment has to hang together - regardless of our differences, we all believe in private firearms ownership. Thankfully, the Internet gives us a way to connect with each other, like these great blogs:

Home on the Range - Brigid is back. 'Nuff said. - This is one of the few gunblogs that covers wheelguns. It's well-written, and while revolvers aren't on the anti-gun radar now, you can bet they will try and come for them eventually. All it takes is one stupid mass murderer who bothers to bring a speedloader or a New York reload...

Massad Ayoob on Guns - Mr. Ayoob needs no introduction, but lately he's been blogging about the tragedy of the Parkland murders and how so much misplaced hatred and anger are being directed at people who had nothing to do with it.

Misfires and Light Strikes - KevinC's excellent blog has been around for 8 years, but somehow I'm just now linking it. It's chock full of great photography and great writing.

Pew Pew Tactical - Edited by Eric Hung, this site has a lot of fun content and mostly stays away from political debates...except for pro-2A matters, of course.

The GunDivas - Really neat blog helmed by several great ladies. The recent posts about trauma management include information that might make a difference in the next spree killing, unlike bans on bump stocks or restrictions on purchasing age.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Music: The Founding

If you're anything like me, St. Patrick's Day is a time for wall-to-wall Irish and Celtic music. Today I'm listening to The Founding, a great band of Western Michigan University alums (formerly known as Blarney Castle). I am really digging their signature song, "Silhouettes Against the Soil":

The Founding released their first full-length album, Form., at the end of last year, and it's a showpiece of musicianship and elegiac writing:

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