Saturday, March 10, 2018

Politics: Boiling the Frog

I've tried to keep politics out of Shangrila Towers over the years, because you're always alienating someone, but Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 7026 yesterday.

I wager that most of the people agitating for gun control will never read the amended statutes, much less any of the state and federal gun laws already on the books. They'll be content that someone "did something" about "gun violence," without worrying how a law impacts millions of gun owners who respect the rule of law and don't want to become accidental felons.

I understand the NRA has already sued to stop the minimum age requirement. That's a start, but every gun owner should read these new laws anyway (and it's not just Florida - lots of states are passing all sorts of unconstitutional nonsense like this). Take your kid to the range. Teach a 19 year old college student to shoot. The Second Amendment is nice, but a long-term generational shift is the only way to stop our rights from being infringed.

Section 790.065(13) - A person younger than 21 years of age may not purchase a firearm. The sale or transfer of a firearm to a person younger than 21 years of age may not be made or facilitated by a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer. A person who violates this subsection commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. The prohibitions of this subsection do not apply to the purchase of a rifle or shotgun by a law enforcement officer or correctional officer, as those terms are defined in s. 943.10(1), (2), (3), (6), (7), (8), or (9), or a servicemember as defined in s. 250.01.

Section 790.222 Bump-fire stocks prohibited.—A person may not import into this state or transfer, distribute, sell, keep for sale, offer for sale, possess, or give to another person a bump-fire stock. A person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 741 775.083, or s. 775.084. As used in this section, the term “bump-fire stock” means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or device.

I don't even know if I own what is defined as a "bump-fire stock" - the law is so ridiculously vague that it could encompass a lighter replacement pistol slide, a heavier trigger return spring, or any one of a thousand common gun parts, not to mention a rubber band

And I will tell you this - I am not turning in my rubber bands.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tech: Cuphead review

The "run and gun" shooter genre may be decades-old, but it's more popular than ever thanks to indie games like Broforce, Mercenary Kings, and the subject of today's review, Cuphead:

Cuphead is a brilliant mashup of Fleischer and Disney-style '30s animation and the pitched shooting battles of Gunstar Heroes. In the game, you guide your beverage-containing hero through a manic series of bossfights, platforming levels, and the occasional horizontal biplane shoot-em-up stage. Every single artistic element in Cuphead, from the hand-drawn animation to the brassy jazz soundtrack, perfectly evokes the period (albeit with some bonkers surreal twists - a pair of frogs turn into a giant slot machine, for smeg's sake).

But it would all be nothing without good gameplay, and Cuphead delivers. Most of the game is devoted to battles with multi-stage bosses, whose constantly shifting forms and semi-randomized attacks require different tactics, even when retrying the same boss again. The difficulty is high, though not quite Nintendo hard, since the game allows you to instantly retry bosses without any penalty. Frustration is also mostly avoided thanks to the excellent controls and varied arsenal, which ensures you seldom feel stuck.

That's not to say there isn't a little uneven difficulty - I beat most bosses in a few tries, but several had me pulling my hair out. I will also fault the game for a lack of straight platforming stages (there are only six in the whole game) and no online multiplayer (at least, not without some hi-jinx). Still, this is easily the best Xbox One game released last year, and a must-buy if you're a fan of old-school shooters.

Rating: 91/100

P.S. - I didn't realize it until after I was done playing the game, but if the phrase "labor of love" ever applied to something, it does to Cuphead. The developer, StudioMDHR, is essentially Chad and Jared Moldenhauer and their friends and family, and it's quite incredible that they could develop a game like this in their first go-around. It didn't affect my score or anything, but I really hope we see more artfully crafted titles from them:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guns: Mossberg 590 Shockwave review - What Was I Thinking?


The Reformation raised a lot of eyebrows this year at SHOT Show, but Franklin Armory isn't the first company to test the limits of the National Firearms Act. From Taurus's Judge to SB Tactical's pistol brace, America's gun industry has long had a knack for devising creative ways to avoid the arbitrary restrictions of federal law.

One of the most recent examples of this ingenuity is the Mossberg 590 Shockwave, a 14-inch barreled "firearm" that just happens to shoot 12 gauge shotshells. It's not much different than the pistol-grip pumps that have been on the market for years, but it looks close enough to an NFA short-barreled shotgun that there's a letter from the BATFE posted on Mossberg's website.

Of course, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's a good idea. A Mossberg 590 with a regular shoulder stock is one of the best defensive shotguns you can buy, but a 590 with a conventional pistol grip is almost useless. Where does the Shockwave fit in?

Shooting Technique

The bird's head grip and short barrel make the Shockwave compact, but they also make aiming the gun fairly difficult. Some people shoot from the hip, but I've had my best results with the technique demonstrated by Clint Smith below - extending the gun out and sighting along the top of the barrel:


Used in this fashion, the Shockwave is indeed easier to hit with than a regular "pistol grip only" gun. You have 5+1 rounds of 12 gauge firepower to work with, too. It's very similar to the old "Witness Protection" 870s used by the U.S. Marshals - a lot of firepower in a relatively compact package.

Range Report

There are two obvious downsides to the Shockwave's lack of a stock: the gun recoils hard into your hands with full power loads, and it's much slower to shoot than a normal shotgun.

The recoil isn't painful, but it fatigues your hands fast. Still, with some careful aim, you can get pretty good patterns with the Shockwave. Here's five rounds of Rio Royal 00 buck at 10 yards - all good hits, though a bit high for my taste.

Federal Flite Control 00 buck performed well, as usual - at 10 yards, all nine pellets basically rip one ragged hole into the target:

Here's a group of Spartan 00 buck at 10 and 15 yards. For my money, 15 yards is the gun's effective range:

The unexpected winner of the patterning sessions? Fiocchi Exacta Low Recoil, which patterned well and was fairly gentle:

The Shockwave is not the ideal platform for launching slugs, even Rio low recoil ones:

The worst performer? PMC "One-Shot Low Velocity Buckshot," which actually recoiled worse than the regular 00 loads I tested:

I didn't like the 8-pellet reduced recoil Federal Flite Control load. It patterned too tightly for my taste, and didn't seem any gentler than normal Flite Control ammo:


Not every gun has to have a purpose. The Shockwave, even just as a novelty, is probably worth the sub-$400 price you'll pay for it. But if your system can take a gun that's 12" longer, a stocked 590 is a much better choice.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Music: Space Truckin'

My friends and I have been enjoying "Ash vs Evil Dead," a Starz original series that brings back Bruce Campbell as everyone's favorite chainsaw-wielding antihero. While the show was developed by Sam Raimi and the original Evil Dead creators, the showrunner is Craig DiGregorio, and he does a great job of translating the cult films' gore and humor into a TV-sized package:

A big part of the Ash v. ED experience is the music, which alternates between classic '70s/'80s hard rock and left-field selections, like PJ Harvey's "Down by the Water." I particularly liked the series' opening song, "Space Truckin'":

It's one of Deep Purple's best tracks, though the live versions can get a bit...indulgent. I mean, I like organ and guitar solos as much as the next guy, but maybe not 20-odd minutes of them:


Miscellany: 2013 BMW 328i long-term review - Drei-er Lint, Part II

I'm a big fan of the long-term tests in "Car and Driver." In my mind, it's easy for a vehicle to hold up okay for the first few years, but much tougher to be trouble-free down the road. You also get a much better sense of a model's strengths and weaknesses from living with it every day, rather than just doing a week of canned testing on some press car.

It's been almost two years since I first bought my F30 328i, which now has about 60,000 miles (33,000 coming from yours truly). How has the Bimmer held up?

Hidden Strengths

40/20/40 Split Folding Rear Seats

I don't think I'll ever buy another car without split folding rear seats, and the ones on the current-generation 3-series have got to be near the top of the class.  With the middle section down, I can transport long items (like a cased M1 Garand).  With 2 sections down, you can sit a third passenger and a large volume of luggage.  With the rear seats totally folded, you get a cavernous storage space that is big enough to fit a twin size mattress (speaking from personal experience). The only very minor annoyance? The levers to unlock the seats are in the trunk.

Driving Modes

Thanks to ever-tightening European emissions standards, BMW's 4-cylinder engines absolutely sip fuel. The B48 modular engine in the post-refresh 330i gets an astonishing real-world 41 miles per gallon on the highway, but even my old N20 clocks in at 31ish mpg combined city/highway, if driven gently in "EcoPro" mode. Those are pretty good numbers for any small-to-midsize sedan, much less a RWD car with over 240 horsepower.

Hidden Weaknesses

Trim Durability

Mechanically, the car has been totally sound, but I can't say the same for the interior and exterior trim. I've encountered minor finish problems that seem pretty widespread by all accounts: a loose rear trunklid taillight, melting front door plastic handles, etc. These would be forgivable in a mainstream vehicle, I guess, but they're pretty annoying in a "luxury" car.

Service Costs

Another problem with any premium brand, and BMW in particular, is the arbitrarily high cost of maintenance. While the purchase price of an F30 3-series isn't bad (a 2013 base model goes for well under 20k nowadays), it's an eye-opener when you take it to your local mechanic or (gasp) the dealer. So far, the car has gotten a couple oil changes, a couple cabin air filters, spark plugs, and a new set of Bridgestone DriveGuard run-flats. If you're at all mechanically inclined, I recommend spending the money for a service manual and doing as much of it yourself as your time and energy allows.

Movies: Night of the Living Dead 4k restoration

Last weekend I saw the 4k restoration of "Night of the Living Dead," George A. Romero's classic zombie film. The screening was part of the monthly Palm Beach County Grindhouse series, hosted by Morbid Movies at the Movies of Lake Worth (or, as my folks call it, the "Old People's Theater"). It was the last stop in the Janus Films limited release, before the big Criterion Blu-Ray drops in February:

As longtime readers know, I am a more of a "Dawn of the Dead" guy, but I do love "Night" and have seen the film many, many times. Unfortunately, thanks to the famous lapse of the original print into the public domain, most of the streaming versions on the Internet are capital-T Terrible, with picture so washed out and damaged that it can be hard to see what's happening.

In contrast, the 4k restoration I saw was lovingly executed by the Museum of Modern Art and supervised by the original crew (including the late George A. Romero). The picture quality was as clean as my old Elite Entertainment DVD, but much sharper - you could even read the print on bags of food in the kitchen. Maybe the only downside of the public screening was the MST3k-like snickering from the crowd (just because it's in black and white doesn't mean it's a schlocky B-movie), but even they shut up when Helen Cooper's screams echoed through the theater. 50 years later, "Night" still has the power to shock, and now it looks better than ever.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Books: Six Frigates

The hard-working men and women of the U.S. Navy are in the news for being worked too hard, but this is by no means a recent phenomenon. In Six Frigates, Ian Toll's gripping account of the early American navy, the deprivations of life at sea are downright harrowing: brutal discipline and horrid weather, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Then, as now, there were relatively few souls willing to volunteer for voyages that could span from Spain to Sumatra, and that could end in death, dismemberment - or worse.

But there was an undeniable romance to the Age of Sail. This was an era when ships navigated by the currents and stars, when opposing captains gave and accepted challenges for single combat, where entire countries fought for notions of honor, even in conflict with their own economic interests. The politics of the age were different, too. Personal magnetism and old friendships in Washington, D.C. could withstand even bitter partisan fights over issues that would be quite familiar to us today (taxes, trade, military spending).

Six Frigates (faithfully cobbled together from the records of the Department of the Navy) takes us back to this world, where Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison shepherded the original six frigates of the U.S. Navy. Ian Toll takes us from patrolling the Caribbean for privateers to exchanging broadsides with the Royal Navy in the War of 1812. There's quite a bit of Patrick O'Brian in the (nonfiction) narrative, so much so that Toll even quotes a passage from The Fortune of War. If you have even a passing interest in naval warfare, I highly recommend it.

Guns: Langdon Tactical - Tactical Pistols Skills class review and report

A couple months ago, I took a "Tactical Pistol Skills" course with Ernest Langdon of Langdon Tactical at the Homestead Training Center. Ernest has the bona fides: he served for 12 years in the U.S. Marines, including as an instructor for the High Risk Personnel Course (read: self-defense for troops deployed in not-so-friendly places), and he's been a competitive shooter and firearms instructor for decades. In a nutshell, I really enjoyed the class, and if you ever get the opportunity to train with him, here's what to expect...

Disclaimer: Just so there's no confusion, shooting is my hobby. I have been in exactly zero gunfights. I am licensed to practice law, not to enforce it. The following review and report is not meant to teach any "tactical" skills, that's for sure.

Day One

Like a lot of classes, the first morning was a lecture covering all sorts of topics, some familiar (the Cooper color code) and some esoteric (a behind-the-scenes look at gun manufacturing, and why the current craze of striker-fired guns has more to do with economics than effectiveness). The shooting techniques discussed weren't anything unorthodox: modified isosceles stance, a high thumbs-forward grip with the support hand angled forward, and a constant-motion trigger stroke for double-action shots. One thing Ernest emphasized was not to "shoot to the reset"; pinning the trigger to the rear and feeling for the reset after each shot is something dreamed up by GLOCK's marketing department.

Things got a bit more interesting once we hit the range, when we started warming up with some basic double-action and single-action shots at 5 yards. Ernest is really good at diagnosing shooter errors; for instance, in a one-on-one session, he instructed a shooter to fire shots at the instant Ernest yelled, "Now!". The shots were all on target, indicating that the shooter's problems in slow fire were likely being caused by an anticipatory microflinch.

Here's Ernest teaching the press-out and giving tips on concealed carry garments:

Day Two

We spent the entire second day on the range, with a good bit of instruction on the DA/SA trigger press. It turns out most people will actually hit the first double-action shot, but then flub a few of the single-action shots, as they are using too much force and steering the gun out of alignment. That was my experience, anyway:

A portion of the morning was devoted to the famous F.A.S.T. from the late great Todd Green. Ernest was able to demonstrate a sub-5 second run, which was impressively fast in person. Here are some runs, from slowest (me) to fastest (him):

The last part of the day was spent training techniques I rarely get to practice at my home ranges - shooting on the move...

...and barricades:

All in all, it was quite a lot of shooting, but I never felt like we were just chucking rounds downrange. All the drills were clearly explained and helpful, our targets were constantly checked and re-taped, and Ernest was able to give a little bit of personal instruction to everyone in the class. If you ever get the opportunity to do some handgun training with Langdon Tactical, I think it'd be well worth your time.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Movies: Coco

Recently, Pixar's been alternating between unnecessary, commercially-driven sequels ("Finding Dory" being the most egregious example), and emotionally satisfying original pictures. I guess I don't mind, given that the studio used to only put out a movie every couple years anyway, but it does mean that you have to stay alert for when they release something noteworthy, like "Coco":

Like last year's excellent "Moana," the movie is a deep dive into a specific real-world culture: Mexico and its famous Day of the Dead.  Our hero is Miguel, a young boy who grows up in a music-hating family.  When he "borrows" a guitar from the grave of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel finds himself sucked into the world of the dead. His only chance of escape? Tracking down de la Cruz and proving himself a real musician.

It's a bonkers premise, one part Grim Fandango and one part Crossroads, but it works because of the strong characters on display. Miguel faces a genuine conflict between his family and his passion for music, and in his struggle to reconcile the two, he shows a lot more maturity than the typical headstrong Disney youths you might be conditioned to seeing. Some cracking Mexican music doesn't hurt, either, with traditional Pixar composer Michael Giacchino collaborating with dozens of Mexican composers and musicians to get it right.

Rating: 8/10

Music: A Very Violin Christmas

Things have been pretty busy here at Shangrila Towers, and if you're anything like me, long hours at the office are tougher during the holiday season. Of course, one way to cut through the yuletide drudgery is Christmas music; I've been listening to a bunch of it. In particular, I've been jamming to these holiday albums from YouTube's most popular violinists:

Songs of Christmas, Taylor Davis and Lara de Wit

Taylor Davis's collaborations with Australian pianist Lara de Wit are always fun occasions.  The pair recently released "Songs of Christmas," a straightforward collection of festive instrumentals. There are some nice takes on more recent songs, like "Happy Xmas" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," mixed in with decades-old standards:

Warmer in the Winter, Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling's Mormon faith is very well known, so it's no surprise that she's released an album of Christmas music. It's a fresh and upbeat set, with a mix of traditional cuts ("I Saw Three Ships," "What Child Is This?") and original songs, including pop earworms like "Christmas C'mon":

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