Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dragon Con 2015 Recap - Celestial Objects

My friends and I spent Labor Day weekend at Dragon Con, the Southeast's largest multigenre fan convention. If you've never been, imagine 70,000 fantasy and sci-fi fans packed into about 7 square blocks of downtown Atlanta, many of them in costume, many of them sleep-deprived, all of them going from one place to another. Sound like fun? You bet it is!

This year, we opted to dress up as characters from the "Saint's Row" series of videogames. I commissioned a giant Professor Genki head, complete with a battery-powered ventilation system:

From left to right - Johnny Gat (Ziggyzeitgeist), Professor Genki (me), and Kinzie Kensington (Spookysquid):

Tessa was able to join in on the fun this year - hooray!

One of the highlights of the con was a two-hour live performance by the Georgia Philharmonic:

They recreated the famous Diva Dance scene from "The Fifth Element" (with soprano Julie Trammel cosplaying as Diva Plavalaguna):

Of course, music is all around the con. Geekapella was performing right outside the vendor hall:

Ziggyzeitgeist ran our annual 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons game. This year's tale centered on the last, lonely ride of the Agave Kid, and, as usual, it was the highlight of the con. We now have several regular friends who play with us every year, so I suppose it's not a "pick-up" game anymore, but whatever:

Lines, lines, lines - only at Dragon Con would a panel featuring the "Mass Effect" voice-actors attract this many fans:

People cosplay everywhere at the con, including the gaming room underneath the Hilton:

The Marriott Marquis hotel lobby becomes a writhing sea of foam-clad humanity at night:

The annual blood drive had cool Lugosi-as-Dracula-themed T-shirts this year, and it was as crowded as ever:

Officially, Dragon Con lasts four days, but there's not too much going on Thursday and Monday (Labor Day). It always seems to end too soon. Oh well - see you next year...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Guns: A Gun Rag Gazetteer

I pick up my fair share of dead-tree shooting magazines, mostly for something to read when I'm tired of staring at a screen. They all have their charms (even the poorly-written ones are chock full of glossy pictures and advertisements), so here's a quick overview of some of my bathroom reading rack for this month...

Shooting Illustrated
This NRA publication is basically "American Rifleman" minus all the hunting and historical stuff. Instead, there's a focus on personal defense, competition shooting, and firearms esoterica (let's handload for your Mosin-Nagant!). Tam is a contributor, and it's cheap, too - only $20 a year for NRA members. 
Interesting Article: A feature on "The Mad Minute" by Ed Head
Featured Gun Review: Kimber Micro Carry .380 ACP
Iffy Content: An interview with author Brad Thor about gear used in his novel

Jerry Tsai's infamous anti-gun take on "sporting purposes" temporarily made this publication a pariah, but a quick switch in editors (and a gung-ho pro-2A change in tone) have allowed advertisers and shooters to embrace it for what it is: gussied-up ad-copy for the latest expensive Blastomatic.
Interesting Article: Training and fitness tips from Buck Doyle of Follow Through Consulting.
Featured Gun Review: DPMS Gen II .308 AR
Iffy Content: Agency Arms G34 "review" (note - not a knock on the company or its custom GLOCKs, which I'm sure are fine - I just thought the article was pure fluffery)

This quarterly bills itself as "The Premier Firearms & Survival Magazine" - not sure if that's the case, but it certainly is the premier magazine of Tactical-Life publications, which puts out a bunch of other "tactical" gun rags.
Interesting Article: A survey/Q&A with various firearms celebs (think Chris Cheng, Bill Wilson) about what gun they use for home defense.
Featured Gun Review: Rainier Arms PDW (it's a gun rag - of course they're going to feature a $2,000 NFA firearm)
Iffy Content: An article about surviving a malfunctioning elevator. Really?

American Shooting Journal
A monthly gun magazine that's about as cheap as it can be - $5 on the newsstand, 36 issue subscription for $50. Of course, most of the pages are absolutely stuffed with ads, so it all evens out. There are articles here you won't find anywhere else, and Oleg contributes photos.
Interesting Article: A bio on Gabrielle Pitre, an 18 year-old master-classified high-power shooter
Featured Gun Review: Big Horn Armory Model 1889 .500 S&W
Iffy Content: A lengthy feature on Battle Comp - treads a bit too close to infomercial territory

This is basically Guns & Ammo's take on the glitzy modern gun magazine, designed for a younger demographic than, say, Shotgun News. It's pretty expensive compared to the others ($9), though, and a bit light on content overall.
Interesting Article: Guns of "Terminator Genisys" (I normally hate these types of articles, but it's a cool look at Harry Lu and his movie armory)
Featured Gun Review: Grey Ghost Precision Specter Heavy .308
Iffy Content: A feature on Jeremy Stafford and his Krav Maga AK Operator and Foreign Weapons Course - again, not a hit on the training, but I've read plenty of better training AARs on webforums

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Books: Augie and the Green Knight

I've participated in plenty of Kickstarters, but few as whimsical as the one for  "Augie and the Green Knight", a children's book written by Zach Weinersmith (of SMBC) and French comic artist Boulet. If you like quirky stuff like the promo below, you're probably going to like the book:

The story's heroine is Augie, a young girl from our time who stumbles into an enchanted forest one chilly day. There, she finds the treant-like Green Knight, King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table. After Sir Gawain decapitates the Green Knight in a playful beheading game (to no ill effect), Gawain learns that he must come to the Green Knight's castle in a year to be decapitated in turn. Can Augie help Gawain avoid this fate with the power of law and logic? Will the Green Knight ever learn that people don't like to be decapitated? Why is there a newt here?

The book is a charming, modern (but mostly faithful) take on the centuries-old tale of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Like all good children's books, there are some lessons to be learned (Augie is smart, but not wise, and eventually figures out that rules need reasons), but the lighthearted illustrations and tongue-in-cheek narrative make sure you don't take it too seriously. If you have a kid, this would be a great book to read aloud to them, a chapter at a time, until Sir Gawain's quest reaches its conclusion.

TV: Penn & Teller - Fool Us

I've long been a fan of the libertarian comedy-magic stylings of Penn & Teller, and their new show, "Fool Us," has the most intriguing premise in televised magic since "Breaking the Magician's Code":

Every episode, several professional magicians perform a routine live in front of Penn & Teller (as well as a packed auditorium at the Rio in Las Vegas). After the performance is finished, Penn & Teller try to figure out how the trick was done. If they can, they drop hints and references to the magician indicating as much; if they can't, the magician is invited to perform as Penn & Teller's opening act. Finally, at the end of each show, Penn & Teller perform one of their own tricks for the audience.

I think "Fool Us" is a hit because it isn't a reality show competition, like you might expect. Instead, Penn & Teller treat the show as an opportunity to showcase the art and craft of magic. All of the performers are professional magicians, some of them nearly as famous as Penn & Teller (Mac King did a routine, for instance), and by keeping the quality of the magic high, the show is more intriguing than if there were a bunch of amateurs onstage. You'll see some truly wondrous things, like this performance from FISM World Champion Shin Lim (easily one of the most astounding things I've seen on TV):

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Links: Americana Podcasts

It's pretty hard to find indie American-style rock, folk, country, and blues on the terrestrial radio nowadays, which is a bit sad considering that those genres were born here.

There are still artists making this kind of music, though, and thanks to the Internet, they're only a podcast away...

The Americana Rock Mix - Coming at you every week from Bradenton, Florida, the Americana Rock Mix serves up hard-rocking, little-known music for your listening enjoyment. Aside from the mixes (which are great), you'll hear artist interviews, album news, and some entertainingly candid discussions of host Von's personal life.

The Miller Tells Her Tale - To escape the bro-country infecting the airwaves today, sometimes you have to go across the ocean - Scotland, to be precise. Karen Miller hosts this 2-hour show out of Glasgow every week, and it's jam-packed with country and rock, old and new, popular and indie.  She does a fine job (I like how she doesn't shy away from giving negative reviews of an album), but there is something slightly surreal about hearing this sort of music introduced by a heavy Scottish accent.

Freight Train Boogie - Host Bill Frater lends his name and his enthusiasm to this podcast, which plays all the "twangy" stuff that has long been abandoned by the mainstream - we're talking real blues and real country, something you might hear in a smoky bar by the train tracks. In addition to the hour-long weekly shows, you can hit up the FTB website for all the latest in roots rock, alt country, and everything else guitars and harmonica.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Tech: Never Alone

When I was a kid, the only way a video game could be "educational" is if it asked you trivia questions: solve this equation, name the capital of Paraguay, state when was the Battle of Gettysburg. Now, some good games came out of that approach (I still have fond memories of the "Carmen Sandiego" series), but it always felt a bit didactic and artificial.

I'm pretty sure my eight year-old self would have loved "Never Alone":

Created in partnership with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, "Never Alone" is a puzzle-platformer about Nuna, a young girl on a quest to find the source of a mysterious blizzard threatening her village. With her Arctic fox spirit animal, whom you can switch to at any time (a second player can also control the fox), you must lead Nuna through a series of gorgeous Alaskan environments while avoiding both real and fantastical hazards.

Everything in "Never Alone" is steeped in the culture of the Iñupiat people. The overall story comes from a native Alaskan folktale, of course, but most of the gameplay elements are grounded in the heritage of the Iñupiat, too. The enemies, the spirit animal mechanics, and even the levels draw inspiration from indigenous experiences.

For instance, early on in the game, you find mystical bolas. The bolas are a traditional weapon used by the Inuit peoples to hunt birds (the game gives you the option to play a "Cultural Insight" movie clip, with real-life footage and interviews of native people using bolas). From then on, you use the bolas to hit airborne "spirit targets" brought to you by your fox companion, and to crack spots of fragile ice high above your head. It's an interesting and effective way to teach people about the Iñupiat culture, since it allows them to experience it firsthand instead of quizzing them on it.  

Viewed strictly as a puzzle-platformer, "Never Alone" is only okay - it's short, the controls are sometimes a hindrance, and there are several harsh trial-and-error challenges near the end that get old fast. Still, "Never Alone" takes you on a journey through another world, which is all I can ask a game to do.

Rating: 80/100

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Guns: S&W Model 60 Pro review - Packing The Tre Pound

Smith & Wesson produces dozens of different .357 Magnum revolvers, but most of them are too big to be practical for concealed carry. For instance, their flagship .357, the 4" barreled S&W 686, weighs two and a half pounds and is nearly 10" long. That's way too much gun (at least for me) to pack on a daily basis.

There are some carry-oriented .357s, though, like the S&W Model 60 Pro. Weighing in at only 23-odd ounces, and using the small five-shot "J" frame, this is one option for people who want to CCW a .357 wheelgun. But is it a good option?

Fit and Features - Going "Pro"

The Pro series is somewhere between S&W's standard production line and their Performance Center guns. The Pros are not custom guns by any stretch of the imagination, but they have features and finishes that are a bit nicer than the everyday Smith.

In the case of the Model 60 Pro, the gun has a slabsided barrel and a racy slanted underlug with a cutout for the ejector rod:

The Model 60 Pro also features special half-checkered, half-stippled wood grips. The checkering and stippling is mostly cosmetic, because the grips are glossy and smooth overall. The grips fit my hand well, mostly because they did not have any finger grooves on them:

The 3" long barrel, though not unique to this model, gives the gun some nice advantages over a normal J-Frame snubbie. One often-overlooked benefit of this barrel length is an ejector rod long enough to knock out magnum cases:

Sights and Trigger

Unlike a Performance Center Gun, the Model 60 Pro does not come with an action job from the factory. This means that the gun's double-action trigger pull is just as heavy as any other J-Frame. It's a big obstacle to practical accuracy, and will probably be a dealbreaker for people who don't regularly practice with revolver triggers.

The Model 60 Pro comes with the same adjustable rear sight as other S&W .357 J-Frames, but the front is a Trijicon green night sight. The topstrap serrations do a good job of leading your eye to it, but I found the tritium insert to be quite small and dim:

Range Report

Though it has an all-steel frame, the Model 60 Pro is about as small as a .357 can get without being painful to shoot.  I found the gun's recoil to be pretty stout with hot .38 +Ps or moderate .357s, and nearly uncontrollable with full house 158 grain magnums. Touching off one of those babies lit a massive fireball in front of me, and flipped the muzzle several inches into the air (I have genuine sympathy for the poor sods who buy an 11-ounce S&W 360PD to fire .357).

I conducted most accuracy testing for the Model 60 Pro with .38s. Here is a 25 yard group, offhand, with my 158 gr lead light target handloads:

Of course, in the interests of science, I also shot some .357s through the little bugger. Here is Remington's 125 grain Golden Saber JHP load (a fairly light magnum load) at 15 yards:

Another group of my handloads, using a 158 grain LSWC, at 20 yards:

Finally, the range's .38 mystery handloads worked well at 20 yards:


In some ways, the Model 60 Pro is a poor choice for CCW. It's bigger than a single-stack 9mm, holds less ammunition, and is more difficult to shoot. If your goal is simply to carry the most effective  weapon that can fit in a 23 ounce, 8" long size envelope, there are a host of other guns that I think would work better.

That being said, I do carry this gun, It's accurate, small enough to fit inside-the-waistband (a rarity for a revolver), and handles anything from powderpuff .38 wadcutters to fullbore .357s. If you need a companion gun for your Airweight .38, you could do a lot worse than the Model 60 Pro.

Movies: Inside Out

It's no secret that Pixar's been in a funk lately, spurning original ideas in favor of half-baked sequels (e.g., "Cars 2"). As such, it was a good sign that their newest film, "Inside Out," bore no resemblance to anything they had ever done:

"Inside Out" portrays the emotions of eleven year-old Riley - joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust - as she moves cross-country to San Francisco. The move and the stress associated with a new home cause big changes for Riley, and it's up to her emotions to keep her happy...or so it seems.

Being a child of the '90s, I thought this movie would basically be an updated version of "Herman's Head" - bickering and bantering between funny emotions (voiced by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader), awkward situations for Riley to get caught up in, and everything ending happily ever after. Instead, "Inside Out" gave me a very mature take on human emotion, especially for a "kid's" movie. If you're tired of the messages that a lot of movies send - that tragedy is an obstacle to overcome, rather than a part of life - you should probably see this one.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TV: Daredevil

I don't think the Bennifer-era adaptation of Daredevil is as bad as people make it out to be, though it definitely has more than its fair share of cringe-inducing camp (a playground fight? really?). However, for those who always wanted a darker, grittier, Frank Miller-ier version of Matt Murdock, Marvel has delivered in a big way:

The 13 episode Netflix series follows a fledgling Daredevil as he battles New York's criminal underworld and comes to grips with his unique powers. The early stories depict Matt's double life as a costumed vigilante and a lawyer, focusing on his relationships with his friends Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. The series takes some neat twists and turns from there, though, eventually devoting quite a bit of time to Daredevil's nemesis, Wilson Fisk (played with award-worthy aplomb by Vincent D'Onofrio).

It's an easy show to like. The performances are excellent, and the production values are incredible - most scenes have the moody lighting you'd expect from a big screen crime drama, not a superhero web series. The dialogue can get fairly clunky (characters constantly reference "Hell's Kitchen" and "my city," to the point where it's become a meme), but the fight scenes pick up the slack nicely:


Music: Libertango

A few weeks ago, Dad and I went to see a concert put on by The Symphonia, a non-profit chamber orchestra formerly known as the Boca Raton Philharmonic. The concert, titled "A Little Latin Night Music," was an interesting blend of well-known string pieces conducted by Kyle Prescott and performed before an appreciative outdoor crowd in Mizner Park.

I particularly liked the arrangement of "Libertango," Piazzolla's famous tango nuevo. Too bad there wasn't a place to dance...

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