Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shangrila Towers Thanksgiving Musical Interlude...

I'll be driving up to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with my family, so posting will be light. In the meantime, why not enjoy a couple of classic Thanksgiving songs?

Here's one I first learned in elementary school - "Over the River and Through the Woods":



This one is more for grown-ups - the classic protest song, "Alice's Restaurant":



Have a happy Thanksgiving, and try to remember all the things you're thankful for...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guns: Ruger LCP review

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sturm, Ruger & Co. have been flattering guns for more than 60 years. The company's first firearm, the Ruger Standard, was visually reminiscent of the WWII-era Nambu and Luger pistols, and the Ruger M77 played up its connection to the Mauser 98 (even though there are a fair number of differences between the two rifle actions).

The latest example of Ruger's mimicry expertise is the LCP.


As plenty of people have noted, the gun looks almost exactly like a Kel-Tec P3AT, the pocket pistol that started the whole .380 craze. To be sure, Ruger added in a manual slide lock and played around with the extractor design, but in terms of feel and function, it might as well be the same gun. The particulars of the Ruger LCP are well-known and widely available in other reviews (most of the bloggers I read have 'em, too), so I guess I'll stick to what I personally like and dislike about the gun.

LIKES:

Size - the LCP is the same size as the P3AT, which is to say, damn small. Here are some comparisons with a S&W 638. Even though a J-frame revolver is one of the smallest and lightest .38 Special revolvers you can buy, my 638 positively dwarfs the LCP:



Reliability - My previous experience with the Kel-Tec P3AT was not pleasant, so I was expecting the LCP to hiccup in my testing. Surprisingly, the LCP ran through more than 400 rounds of .380 without a stoppage, save for a failure to go into battery on round #17 (remedied by gentle tap on the slide). For a pocket gun of this size, that is exceptional reliability.

Accessories - The LCP has been selling like gangbusters for the past few years, and that popularity translates into easy holster and accessory availability; if they make it for a pocket gun, they make it for the LCP. Heck, even the Ruger factory spare magazines are easy to find. I carry my LCP in a plain-Jane DeSantis Nemesis holster that you can pick up at gun stores around the country:


When carried in a pocket holster, the LCP looks very similar to a leather billfold wallet - an excellent property in an office environment. For max concealability, I use the flush magazine floorplate; the extended floorplate doesn't aid my shooting at all.


DISLIKES:

Sights - The tiny, milled in sights on the LCP are vestigal at best. I much prefer the iron sights on the second generation of pocket .380s - the S&W Bodyguard, SIG P238, and Kahr P380.

Durability - Shooting is my hobby, so it's a little weird owning a gun that I know has a relatively short lifespan. A compact GLOCK can digest cases and cases of ammo before it needs new springs...the LCP, not so much.

Accuracy - This is the only CCW handgun I own that cannot reliably group on a piece of notebook paper at 15 yards. Granted, I'm no Olympic target shooter, but it's obvious that the LCP's practical range is far shorter than even a subcompact 9mm or .38.

CONCLUSION

Like all handguns, the Ruger LCP is a compromise, trading effectiveness for a compact form factor. Granted, it's a bit more of a compromise than an M1911 or a GLOCK, but the LCP fits where those guns cannot (more on that in a future post). As long as you keep its limitations in mind, the LCP is a good choice for concealed carry.

Movies: The Captains

Not just anybody can be a Starfleet captain in the "Star Trek" universe. Out on the edge of known space, days or weeks away from resupply, and in control of weaponry that can incinerate a city from orbit, only the most dedicated individuals can be trusted to command a starship.

Interestingly enough, the same considerations apply to the actors who play "Star Trek" captains:




Written and directed by William Shatner, "The Captains" is a documentary focusing on the performers who have played the lead role in a "Star Trek" film or TV series: Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine. Shatner interviews each, in a continent-spanning journey to settle his feelings about being so closely identified with his iconic role as Captain Kirk (he once had a famously-cool relationship with Trekkies).

There's a little "Star Trek" lore discussed, but the film is chiefly a mini-biography of the actors; Shatner asks them about how they got into show business, how they were cast into their roles in "Star Trek," and how they feel about the effects, positive and negative, that being a "captain" had on them:





Even though it has its faults (a bloated runtime, maudlin background music), I think "The Captains" is an essential documentary for any "Star Trek" fan. Heck, even non-Trekkers will get a kick out of it, since it's much more focused than a conventional behind-the-scenes piece (can you imaine William Shatner and Avery Brooks having an impromptu piano jazz session in a regular Trek documentary?). If you want to get "inside the captain's chair," it's the only game in town.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Guns: "He's ready to make the jump...There he goes!"

Spike's Tactical Zombie stripped lower, Hornady Zombie Max .223 Remington, and the Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition DVD set:




Anyone have a Colt SP1 upper for sale? I need something that mimics an Adler-Jager AP-74...

Tech: Xbox Live Arcade's Sega Saturn Renaissance

The reasons behind the failure of the Sega Saturn videogame console are well-documented - an astronomical $399 asking price, a confusing marketing campaign, a complex architecture that was hard to develop for, etc. Despite these failings, the Saturn had a strong following in Japan, and many of that country's developers made some spectacular games late in the console's life. Here are a couple of such titles, both from Treasure, that have been ported to the Xbox Live Arcade:

Radiant Silvergun



I have a different take on Radiant Silvergun than most reviewers, since my friend er0k bought the game when it was first released. As such, I played RS regularly during college, and I'm pretty familiar with its merits and faults: to make a long story short, it's a great shoot-'em-up, easily one of the best ever made, but it lacks the elegance and pacing of my favorite shooter, Ikaruga.

The XBLA port ticks off all the boxes you'd expect. In addition to the arcade and story modes in the original Saturn game, there's optional enhanced graphical effects, online leaderboards, and downloadable replays of top players. The only downside is the inability to use the Saturn controller - the Xbox 360's control stick (and famously unresponsive d-pad) are suboptimal for sneaking in-between bullets.

Rating: 92/100

Guardian Heroes

Guardian Heroes is a member of an archaic genre - the sidescrolling fantasy brawler (think Golden Axe and D&D: Tower of Doom/Shadow Over Mystara). You know the drill...walk your character from left to right, beat up hordes of hapless mooks with swords or sorcery, and fight off giant bosses:



For the most part, Guardian Heroes for Xbox Live is a dynamite, must-have port, since it removes the slowdown that plagued the original Saturn game, and adds in online coop play. The multiple characters and branching path system give the game some replay value, too, which is more than can be said for most sidescrolling brawlers. About the only criticism I have is the netcode - the original game's 2-player mode was made for two people playing on the same physical console, and playing the XBLA port's 2-player over the Internet means that you'll get worse-than-usual lag and disconnections.

Rating: 83/100

Monday, November 14, 2011

Guns: Five Worst Gun Show Items



I made a trip to Ye Local Gun Show this weekend, and it was a good reminder that a whole lotta junk gets peddled at these venues. Here's my top (or should that be bottom?) five types of crappy products you'll find at a gun show:

Mystery Reloads


I trust my own handloaded ammunition, because I've personally inspected, measured, and loaded each case with an appropriate powder charge. I don't trust random pistol rounds that someone shoved into a Ziploc bag.

Optics of Dubious Provenance

At the gun shows around here, it's actually very difficult to find decent red dot sights; I couldn't find anyone selling an Aimpoint Micro or an Eotech XPS. There were plenty of off-brand and airsoft grade scopes, though.

I've also heard about "replicas" of high-end optics, which some sellers ignorantly or maliciously pass off as the real thing. There weren't any at the local gun show, but I thought it was worth a mention.

Self-Defense Gimmicks

There must be a lot of people who are skittish about carrying a firearm for defense, because every other aisle at the show had some strange gadget designed to fend off hoodie-wearing assailants. I saw sword canes, Kimber Pepper Blasters, and, of course, the ever-popular cell phone stun guns:



Cheapo Knives

I'm not sure why anyone would buy a "gun show special" knife when you can get inexpensive folders from reputable companies like Spyderco, Kershaw, and others. Sure, the low-end knives from the name brands are made in China, but they come from the good Chinese factories, not the bad ones:



Inedible Jerky

I don't think it's physically possible to walk through a gun show and not be handed a foul, tough beef jerky sample by some desperate stranger. All the other products on this list might be bad, but at least you don't put them in your mouth and eat them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Like a lot of people, I make a point of donating to military charities on Veterans Day. Unfortunately, a lot of unscrupulous crooks are eager to take advantage of the generosity of the American public and the unparalleled reputation of the service members of the U.S. armed forces. Please make your donations wisely - don't just drop a twenty in the bucket of some guy on the street wearing camo.

With those considerations in mind, here's the official Shangrila Towers Veterans Day Charity for 2011:

Fisher House Foundation



Fisher House constructs homes to provide free temporary housing to the families of service members needing medical care across the country. They're not shabby, lowest-bidder-type places either - check out this one near the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

News: Not So Happy Valley

Retired Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on sexual abuse charges, and, when it became apparent that head coach Joe Paterno knew of these allegations for years, the Penn State board fired Paterno. The reaction around campus was not pleasant:



This isn't rioting over political oppression or even the loss of a big game - this is rioting over the dismissal of someone who failed to investigate some very heinous charges. Even if Sandusky is innocent (which seems pretty unlikely, given how many people caught him in the act), Paterno shouldn't get sympathy, not when he didn't lift a finger to police the coaches over whom he had so much power.

I'm hoping that justice will be done. In the meantime, here's Jerry Sandusky talking about Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded "to help Pennsylvania's children achieve their potential as individuals and community members by providing them with opportunities to develop self-esteem":

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Movies: Bunny and the Bull

When was the last time you laughed out loud during a movie? For me, it was when I was watched "Bunny and the Bull," a comedy directed by Paul King:



The movie's plot is familiar enough. Strait-laced Stephen reminisces about a road trip across Europe that he took with his zany best friend Bunny. Bunny is everything Stephen is not: brash, risk-taking, a ladies' man. Their differences don't hamper their friendship, at least initially; when a waitress named Eloisa accompanies the pair on their journey, however, all bets are off.

I liked "Bunny and the Bull," and nearly died of laughter at this bit where Bunny tries to learn how to become a matador from Eloisa's brother Javier, played by a delightfully insane Noel Fielding (skip to 3:55):



The stylistic touches in "Bunny and the Bull" might not be for everyone (and they honestly don't add much to the film). No matter how you slice it, though, this a funny flick with memorable characters, and well worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

TV: Talking Dead

The production woes surrounding AMC's hit series, "The Walking Dead," have been well-documented. Showrunner Frank Darabont was dumped and the per-episode budget was slashed, as brutally as a zombie chomping on human flesh. Despite the turmoil, AMC decided to eke out a little more airtime from the show by throwing together a late night aftershow about TWD called "Talking Dead."

It's hosted by Chris Hardwick, but there are invariably in-studio celebrity guests (series creator Robert Kirkman usually makes an appearance, and past guests include Felicia Day and Patton Oswald). "Talking Dead" also takes the audience participation shtick to the max, soliciting questions from online viewers via chat, Twitter, and Facebook.

The show mostly comes across as an attempt to fill airtime, but there are occasionally interesting behind-the-scenes bits. For my part, I like seeing how the various special effects makeup gags in the show were done, and I found that the interviews with TWD cast are usually entertaining:

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Guns: Side Guard Holsters review - Tuck Snap IWB holster

Many inside-the-waistband holsters have wide attachment points that help distribute the weight of a gun along a belt:


The downside of the wide-body, dual-strap design is its bulk; all that extra material is overkill if you're toting a small gun like an Airweight J-frame. For that kind of handgun, I like going with a smaller, more minimalist IWB - in this case, the Tuck Snap IWB from Side Guard Holsters.


The SG Tuck Snap uses a single flap with a metal-snap loop to attach to the belt. The holster is "tuckable" (you can tuck a shirt in with your gun on your belt), as the flap is only attached to the holster at the bottom:


The enlarged holster mouth protects the side of your body from getting chafed by the gun, and the holster body protects the muzzle of the gun. The build quality is fairly high on the SG Tuck Snap. Here's a shot of the stitching and boning on the back of the holster:


The Tuck Snap is comfortable on the hip, and conceals easily with an untucked shirt or covering garment. As with most tuckable holsters, the feasibility of tucking your shirt over the gun will depend on the size of the handgun, your shirt, and how much printing you can tolerate.


The Tuck Snap retained my J-Frames well...almost too well. The holster grips the gun so tightly that if you don't push the holster off with your thumb, it'll come out with the gun, hindering your draw. This is exacerbated by the tuckable belt loop; instead of staying on the belt, the whole darn holster flops out.


My normal draw stroke incorporates a thumb break/sweep, so it's not a big deal, but it's something that might trip up the unwary. Even with this drawback, the Tuck Snap is a good holster, and gets the Shangrila Towers seal of approval.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Links: Fall Blogrolling


There's no grand theme unifying today's changes to the Shangrila Towers blogroll.

Additions:

Carteach0: As the blog header indicates, this is, quite simply, a blog of shooting topics. There's posts about old reloading dies at gun shows, scoping a CZ 452 training rifle, and choosing a CCW piece. Needless to say, all this stuff is right up my alley.

Changes:

Shall Not Be Questioned: Formerly known as "Snowflakes in Hell." As I understand it, the H-E-double hockey sticks part of the old blog name was causing too much trouble with the wider world, and it was a bit confusing to explain anyway. You'll still find the exact same gun rights politics, news, and philosophy at "Shall Not Be Questioned."

Deletions:

God, Guns and Grits - Last time I added this blog by John W. Myers, he was undergoing chemotherapy. It's now been many months since his last post; either he's passed on or he's decided that tending to faith and family was more important than pumping the free ice cream machine. In either case, vaya con Dios, sir.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Miscellany: Leatherman Skeletool review - Five Ounce Fixer-Upper

I used to rate multitools solely on how many different tools they had onboard. The point of a multitool is to do as many things as possible, I reasoned, so more tools were better than fewer tools. Sure, I might not need a wood saw, metal file, or can opener on a day-to-day basis, but the more the merrier, right?

Eventually, I realized that even the most feature-laden multitool is worthless if you don't have it with you. Today's post reviews a multitool that's small enough to be carried almost anywhere - the Leatherman Skeletool:


The Skeletool is one of the smaller tools in the Leatherman lineup, and the only one that includes an integrated pocket clip. It carries well in a front or rear pocket, and I find this method of carry to be more practical than clipping it onto something with the carabiner. My only quibble is that the clip is not repositionable.


For the testing, I ran the Skeletool through some common home improvement tasks - changing out a sprinkler timer and installing a ceiling fan. For these kinds of chores, most home owners would have to break out their toolbox, so I thought it'd be interesting to see whether the Skeletool could really tackle these jobs.


Right away, I found that the most easily accessible tool was the knife blade; I flicked it open and carved out the plastic on the sprinkler timer box with no problems. The knife held its edge surprisingly well (on the standard Skeletools, the blades made of 420HC stainless, on the deluxe CX models, it's 154 CM). I did find the Skeletool's knife to be a tad short for everyday carry.


In contrast, the screwdriver is the most awkward thing on the Skeletool. You have to use the driver with the Skeletool opened partway, since it can't be extended in the closed position, and that makes spinning the tool around a chore. It worked well enough for simple driving tasks, like attaching the fan blades to the ceiling fan, but it was quite difficult to screw in the sprinkler timer box to the wall because of the additional bulk of the multitool (we ended up using a regular screwdriver).


On the plus side, the driver slot accepts Leatherman's interchangeable bit system, allowing you to tailor what bits you carry depending on your needs. The spare bit is kept inside the Skeletool via a flexible metal tab:


Like most Leathermans, the star of the Skeletool is its set of pliers. I didn't have problems using them to strip and pull apart wires during the sprinkler installation, and I didn't notice too much flex when bearing down on them with moderate pressure. Obviously, they're not super heavy-duty pliers or wire cutters, but, considering the size, they work great.


If you can deal with the limited toolset (especially the omission of common items like scissors and a can opener), the Skeletool is a decent choice for a pocket multitool. I'm not sure it replaces my standard everyday carry combo (a Kershaw Skyline plus a Victorinox Tinker), but it's a good alternative, at least.

Guns: Panteao Productions' "Make Ready" series



The "Make Ready" series is a line of firearms training DVDs by Panteao Productions. Each DVD contains a lesson taught by a professional shooter, gunsmith, or firearms instructor, and the whole series is available for unlimited online streaming at Panteao's website for a monthly or yearly charge.

I tried the streaming service, and was mostly pleased. The material is available in high-definition, though only the fastest broadband connections will be able to pull down a 1080p stream.

Here are the standouts from the current library:

  • Bill Rogers: Reactive Pistol Shooting
  • In a real life fight, the bad guys rarely stand still. The reactive pistol training course developed by former FBI agent Bill Rogers is built around this fact; instead of standard static targets, Rogers emphasizes getting hits on small areas that are partially exposed for fractions of a second - nicely simulating the stress of hitting someone who is moving or behind cover.
  • Travis Haley: Adaptive Carbine
  • If you're a fan of the Magpul Dynamics "Art of the Tactical Carbine" series, you'll be familiar with much of what Travis Haley teaches on this DVD. Haley is a great instructor, and there's also some new material here, so the DVD is still worth a watch. There's a detailed breakdown of the modern carbine shooting stance, discussions of speed and accuracy, and the usual malfunction/reloading/zeroing advice.
  • Louis Awerbuck: Analysis of the Survival Mindset
  • There are very few people who are qualified to teach a course about close range gunfighting, and Louis Awerbuck is one of them. Here, you'll get advice on where to aim at a bad guy, when to draw a second gun (the New York reload), and, most importantly, thoughts on the mindset, strategy, and tactics needed for survival, all delivered in an awesome South African accent.

I wish the site had a lower bandwidth video option for people who don't have super high-speed cable internet - even the 480p format chugged at times on my budget DSL connection. I also think they'd make a lot of money selling digital "copies" of individual DVDs at reduced price. On the balance, though, the Panteao series is well worth a look.

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