Thursday, September 15, 2016

Guns: HK USP review


Heckler & Koch's USP was first produced in 1993, and in some respects, it's an outdated gun. The USP doesn't have interchangeable backstraps, built-in optics mounts, or any of the other features associated with modern polymer pistols. Maybe that's why the USP is buried at the bottom of HK's website like a crazy old uncle.

Still, the USP is a proven, time-tested pistol design that runs like a top even with the worst ammo you can find. I borrowed one from Shovelstroke Ed for this review, and he gleefully gave me boxes of steel-cased Wolf and aluminum-cased Blazer .40 S&W for testing. "Go ahead," he said. "Run whatever you want through it; it'll eat it up." He was right.


The most common USP variant has a decocker/safety lever that allows the pistol to be carried cocked-and-locked, or with the safety off and hammer down (to decock, you push the lever down). Either way works fine, and it's a choice not allowed by most DA/SA guns.

Notwithstanding the gun's versatility, there are some things I don't like about the design. The USP's paddle magazine release is ambidextrous, but very small - I much prefer the Walther PPQ's release, which is easier to hit at speed and no less secure. The grips, while nicely textured, are too big and squared off to be comfortable. Remember, this gun in .40 holds thirteen rounds, same as a GLOCK 23.


Shooting the USP is pretty enjoyable. The slide and recoil assembly conspire to give the gun hollow, pop-gun type recoil - it feels like you are playing "Time Crisis II".

I managed decent, but not spectacular accuracy out of the USP, especially considering that Shovelstroke Ed had the trigger and sights of this gun worked on by a gunsmith in Colorado. All groups were shot from 25 yards, standing and offhand. As you can see, the USP handled Wolf FMJ, Blazer FMJ, Speer Gold Dots, and Winchester white box with no problem.


The USP is one of those guns that's so famous it's hard to review. The big downside of the gun is its size and weight compared to numerous other options from every other manufacturer (Beretta, FN, GLOCK, S&W, etc., etc.), and its 1990s-era ergonomics. If you can handle all that (no pun intended), this is still a very good choice for target practice or home defense.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Shangrila Towers - 10th Anniversary

Shangrila Towers began with this post on September 7, 2006 - that's 70 in blog years! Much thanks for all the readers and comments...hopefully I can keep this ride going for another 10 years, when you will be consuming this via cyberpunk-style neural implants.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Links: Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library

WUFT's "Theatre of the Mind" was one of my favorite radio shows in college. For two hours, host Bill Sabis played classics from the golden age of old time radio - lurid horror ("Sus-pennnse!"), classic sci-fi ("X minus one... Fire!"), mystery ("Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar"). He turned every Sunday night into a time machine to the golden age of old time radio; it was a sad day when the show ended its 25-year run.

That's why I was delighted to find the Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library, an incredible repository of thousands of radio dramas from that bygone era, often collecting series that are not available from any other source. Downloading shows (including famous ones like "The Shadow") is completely free, although there is a 10 GB monthly limit to keep bandwidth costs down. If you have any interest at all in classic radio drama, you need to check out the OTRR Library.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Music: Resistor

It's been a dark and stormy summer here at Shangrila Towers, and Lera Lynn's latest album, "Resistor," makes for an appropriate soundtrack. "Resistor" is, in part, a defiant indie statement (Lynn and longtime producer Josh Grange recorded it in the shadow of Music Row, a literal Big Machine), but it's mostly full of the kind of atmospheric singer-songwriter tracks you just don't find on mainstream radio these days. You can practically smell the faded cigarettes and cheap beer when you listen to the single "Drive":

Things get a bit more muddled in some of the album's later tracks - they're lush and well-crafted, to be sure, but sometimes the songs get so melancholy they border on self-parody. On the whole, though, "Resistor" is one of my favorite releases of the year, and well worth a listen - best enjoyed while cruising in a muscle car on a dark backcountry highway...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sports: Kim Rhode

The shooting sports have rarely had a champion like Kim Rhode. After overcoming a change from trap to skeet forced by the IOC, and health issues stemming from giving birth to her son, she's now gunning for an Olympic medal in her sixth straight Summer Games. That's something that no one, in any sport, has ever done before:

It's impressive enough being able to shoot down 60 mph clays on demand, but Kim Rhode also shoots down gun control questions from reporters; she's become a personable defender of the Second Amendment, especially with respect to California's draconian gun laws. As a mother, Olympic gold medalist, and lifelong shooter, I can't imagine a better spokesperson for the cause.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Tech: Rise of the Tomb Raider review

A few years ago, Crystal Dynamics rebooted the "Tomb Raider" video game series to critical acclaim and good (but not great) sales numbers. Still, revising an iconic character is always risky, so I gave the reboot high marks back in 2013, even if some of the story and gameplay decisions fell flat.

The second game in the reboot series, "Rise of the Tomb Raider," was released late last year for the Xbox One/PC and is hitting the PS4 in October, so it's as good a time as any to review it. In this one, Lara travels to Siberia in search of a magical McGuffin sought by her late father. Unfortunately, Lara's not alone; a mysterious paramilitary organization called Trinity is also after the artifact, and they'll kill anyone in their way.


Open World - The Lara Croft version of Siberia is riddled with entertaining environments. You'll scamper through old Soviet mining shafts, Byzantine monuments, and precarious mountain faces, all of which hide plenty of optional tombs and side areas that will test your platform and puzzle skills. It's a proper Tomb Raider experience, and one of the few games where I've felt the need to track down optional content after I completed the story.

Excellent Graphics - On a reasonably powerful PC (GeForce GTX 970, Core i7-4790 @ 3.6 GHz), "Rise of the Tomb Raider" looks fantastic. The set piece reveals are predictably jaw-dropping, but I was really impressed by the ambient fire and weather effects; Lara is near a fire or being hit by a blizzard 90% of the time in this game, and it always looked believable.


More of the Same - If you played the 2013 reboot, you've seen most of the tricks that this game has. Prince of Persia/Uncharted style climbing, stealthy bow-and-arrow'll feel pretty familiar. There are some new skills, craftable items, and mechanics, but by and large, this is the same stuff.

Stagnant Combat - The game's default enemies, Trinity soldiers, are pretty aggressive and smart, but they're pretty much all you fight, aside from the odd wolf. Whatever happened to T. Rexes and snowmobile riders?

Rating: 87/100

P.S. - I am not sure how they got Karen O to do an ending theme, but it's absolutely perfect for the game:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Guns: Ruger LCP review [2013 Gen 2] (The .380 Throne, Part 5 of 5)

[I'm clearing out a bunch of my .380 pistols, so I thought it'd be fun to do a C/D-style comparison test to see which one is king of the hill...]

1. Ruger LCP - Still The One

Ruger quietly upgraded its bestselling LCP in 2013, by adding more pronounced sights and changing the hammer cocking position (which resulted in a shorter, lighter trigger pull). As it stands, the gun is a good blend of concealability, reliability, and accuracy - not the best in any particular category, but very solid all around. If you want to carry a .380 in your pocket or on your ankle, this would be my recommendation.

Blazer Brass 7 yards:

Aguila at 7 yards:

Remington UMC at 10 yards:

Winchester at 10 yards:

PMC Bronze at 7 yards:

S&B at 10 yards:

S&B at 15 yards:

Guns: Glock 42 review (The .380 Throne, Part 4 of 5)

[I'm clearing out a bunch of my .380 pistols, so I thought it'd be fun to do a C/D-style comparison test to see which one is king of the hill...]

2. Glock 42 - The Single-Stack Study

Like a demented Deep Thought experiment, the G42 is an answer to a question no one asked - the pistol just doesn't measure up to the size/capacity of other .380s on the market. Actually, I've always suspected that Glock devoted the entire gun to troubleshooting the design of its real cash cow, last year's Glock 43 9mm. In relative terms, the G43 completely obsoletes its little brother; it's only slightly larger, yet still holds 6+1 rounds of a much more powerful cartridge.

So, in the Glock 42, we are left with a curious package that is both more and less than the sum of its parts. It has the same terrible plastic "sights" and the same mushy trigger found on every stock Glock, yet it also shares the family's shootability and trigger reset, too. In fact, this was actually the softest-recoiling, fastest-shooting pistol of the group, and it was almost as accurate as the Bersa.

PMC Bronze at 7 yards:

Of course, one well-documented issue with the G42 is its ammo sensitivity. Some brands will work flawlessly, others will give you jams. These problems tend to go away after break-in, but it is something to look out for:

S&B at 10 yards:

S&B at 15 yards:

Guns: Bersa Thunder review (The .380 Throne, Part 3 of 5)

[I'm clearing out a bunch of my .380 pistols, so I thought it'd be fun to do a C/D-style comparison test to see which one is king of the hill...]

3. Bersa Thunder - Roaring In

You know how in car mag comparos, they always drop in one vehicle that doesn't belong, in terms of size or performance or price? Well, the Bersa Thunder doesn't really fit in this test. It's much larger and heavier than all the other guns here; unless you have M.C. Hammer pants, this is not going to be something you can carry in your pocket.

Of course, the Thunder's size, weight, and traditional fixed barrel/blowback operating system made it incredibly accurate and easy to shoot. This gun ran reliably with all ammunition, and also had one of the lowest street prices, too. If you don't intend to carry your .380 in the pocket and can handle a DA/SA trigger, you really need to try this gun out.

16 rounds of Fiocchi at 10 yards:

16 rounds of Magtech at 10 yards:

16 rounds of PMC Bronze at 10 yards:

18 rounds of S&B at 10 yards:

16 rounds of S&B at 15 yards. This is one of the few compact .380s you could realistically employ at extended distances (e.g., in an active shooter scenario).

Guns: Kahr CW380 review (The .380 Throne, Part 2 of 5)

[I'm clearing out a bunch of my .380 pistols, so I thought it'd be fun to do a C/D-style comparison test to see which one is king of the hill...]

4. Kahr CW380 - One size fits small

Kahr still makes the only truly pocket-sized 9mm pistol I would recommend (the PM9/CM9), so it might be surprising that they only place fourth in this shootout. The CW380 is one of the smaller .380s on the market, sure, but not everything can be proportionally shrunken down without affecting utility.

In this case, the gun's tiny size makes the long Kahr double-action trigger almost unusable for me (and I have small hands), while the slimmed down sights are difficult to see and even harder to shoot at speed. This gun turned in the largest groups of the entire test. The gun is reliable, and accurate enough up close, but it's not a top choice for me.

Winchester White Box FMJ at 7 yards:

10 yards...

Remington UMC at 10 yards:

S&B at 10 yards:

S&B at 15 yards - most of the shots were off paper; it would be way too risky to actually use the gun for self-defense at this distance.

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