Sunday, October 13, 2019

Horrific Halloween 2019 - Music for Trick-or-Treaters (updated playlist)

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. Let's review some newer selections from my continuously-updated Halloween Spotify playlist, "Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest."

"Season of the Witch," Donovan - I debated adding this classic rock song into the playlist for awhile, because I try to avoid songs that merely co-opt Halloween imagery but aren't really about the supernatural (e.g., "Black Magic Woman"). What sealed "Season of the Witch's" place on the list was the song's long association with horror movies (the latest being Lana Del Rey's eerie cover for "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark").

"Shankill Butchers," Sarah Jarosz - A lot of Halloween playlists include the protest song "Zombie" by The Cranberries, which of course is about an infamous IRA bombing, not the undead. My list swaps in Sarah Jarosz's cover of Colin Meloy's "Shankill Butchers." The subject matter is still the horrific sectarian violence of The Troubles, but the grisly serial killings of the titular UVF death squad fit Halloween a lot better (the worst monsters are, as always, men).

"Trick or Treat," Fastway - One of the nice things about constructing this playlist is discovering gems from lesser-known acts like Fastway, a band created by former Motörhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and former UFO bassist Pete Way (get it?). "Trick of Treat" is the title track from Fastway's soundtrack album for "Trick or Treat," a rock comedy-horror film (no, seriously). The song delivers anthemic heavy metal vocals and has a strong Halloween connection, making it perfect for the list.

Danse macabre, Op. 40, Camille Saint-Saëns - I have several pieces of classical music on the list, including versions of "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," but this piece is explicitly about Halloween. You'll recognize it from several supernatural stories, including this hilarious scene from a famous episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Dark Night, The Blasters - This is one of those borderline songs. The actual lyrics aren't about monsters or the occult, but it's a great song, and its prominent use in "From Dusk till Dawn" and its creepy vibe are enough to qualify. Elsewhere on the list is a Spanish version of "After Dark," the song played during Santanico Pandemonium's memorable dance scene.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Guns: Ruger GP100 Match Champion review - Six for Score


Full-size revolvers have been absent from military and police holsters for decades, but the guns are still widely used by private citizens for defense and for competition shooting (specifically, IDPA Stock Revolver and IPSC Revolver divisions). Today's review looks at a version of the Ruger GP100 geared for such tasks: the Match Champion, chambered in .357 Magnum.

Fit and Features

Much like the Smith and Wesson's Model 686 SSR, the Match Champion isn't a custom shop gun, but rather a parts-improved variant of Ruger's production GP100. That means there's no action or trigger work here, but you do get a unique Hogue wooden grip, a slabsided 4.2" crowned barrel with relieved underlug, and a very slightly chamfered and radiused cylinder:

As a GP100, the Match Champion has the advantage of having lots of accessories and holsters available, both from Ruger and aftermarket. I found it worked fine with HKS speedloaders designed for K-Frames. [CORRECTION - I had it backwards; it turns out I had HKS speedloaders designed for L-frames/GP100s, which do work in my S&W Model 10 - thanks Anon]

Sights and Trigger

I opted for the model with a fully adjustable rear sight (a fixed Novak low-profile rear is also available). The front sight is a bright green fiber optic that stands out pretty well in most lighting conditions.

While the trigger hasn't actually been worked on by a smith, Ruger tumbles and polishes the fire control parts and adds a centering boss and shims for the trigger and hammer. The resulting double-action pull is a bit smoother than a stock gun, but not really any lighter.

Range Report

The Match Champion is probably one of the most comfy .357s I've ever fired - manageable even with full-house loads, and quite pleasant with target-loaded .38s. My offhand accuracy was excellent, especially compared to the teensy J-Frames I'm used to shooting.

Remington .38 Special UMC 158 gr. lead RN, 12 rounds @ 15 yards:

Handload .38 Special (158 gr Hornady JHP over 3.9 grains Bullseye), 5 rounds @ 15 yards:

Handload .38 Special (158 gr Speer LSWCHP over 3.5 grains Bullseye), 5 rounds @ 15 yards:

Remington .38 Special UMC 125 gr SJHP, 6 rounds @ 15 yards:

Remington .357 Magnum Golden Saber 125 gr., 12 rounds @ 15 yards:


Ruger is known for making reasonably priced, tank-like revolvers that do a yeoman's job, but the Match Champion shows they can gussy things up, too. I had a great time shooting it, and if you're in the market for a full-size .357, it should be on your shortlist.

Books: My Hero Academia

Superhero stories are a dime a dozen these days, but I've enjoyed breezing through "My Hero Academia," a manga series by Kōhei Horikoshi. The books are set in a modern-day Japan where 80% of the population manifests supernatural powers called "Quirks." Most people's Quirks are minor enough that they live ordinary lives, but a select few become government-sanctioned professional superheros ("Pro Heroes")... and others become dastardly villains.

The series follows Izuku Midoriya, a timid boy who was born without a Quirk. Izuku dreams of becoming a Pro Hero like his idol, the Superman-esque No. 1 Pro Hero, "All Might." Through a twist of fate, Izuku gets enrolled in Japan's elite academy for heroes, U.A. High School, and encounters a wide selection of friends, rivals, heroes, and villains.

"My Hero Academia" is hardly original (it's basically "X-Men" crossed with "Harry Potter"), but the characters are charming enough and the plot beats are absurd enough (a battle royale hero licensing exam) that it's still a lot of fun.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Miscellany: Dragon Con 2019 - Simon, you are getting older

For our gaming group, this year's Dragon Con was a low-key affair. Maybe we're slowing down with age, but we didn't have the time to make the elaborate costumes of years past, nor the wherewithal to spend 10 hours playing our usual D&D pickup game. Still, it's always nice seeing old friends, and the convention itself is bigger than ever.

The big panel we attended was for "Good Omens," a novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman that was recently adapted into an Amazon/BBC TV series. Pretty much everyone there was dressed as either Aziraphale or Crowley, which made for a delightful photo op:

If cosplay pictures are your priority, the glass walls of Aviva make it a great place for people-watching. The restaurant is located in the Hub at the Peachtree Center, Dragon Con's unofficial cafeteria.

As far as gaming goes, while we didn't play our own campaign, we did try out a Pathfinder Second Edition playtest and the Pathfinder Adventure "Skull & Shackles" card game. Both games were fun, but they had some definite balance issues and maddening rules.

The highlight of the weekend was a stripped-down performance by The Slants, an Asian-American band most famous for winning a First Amendment case in front of the Supreme Court.

Continuing with the Asian-American theme, I only wore a single costume at this year's con: Bruce Lee's famous yellow jumpsuit from "Game of Death."

Well, that's it for this year's Con - see you guys next year...

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Movies: The Peanut Butter Falcon

The river journey has been a staple of American fiction since Huck Finn, and "The Peanut Butter Falcon" continues the tradition by sending an odd couple (a runaway dreaming of becoming a pro wrestler and a roguish fisherman) down North Carolina's Outer Banks:

The film is a feel-good passion project of writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, who wrote the movie specifically to show off actor Zack Gottsagen's talents. It's been tough for Gottsagen to break through (he hails from Boynton Beach and has Down syndrome), but this film should change that.  Gottsagen and his costars Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson (both doing the best work they've done in years) give the film a good-natured energy, and are joined by a fine supporting cast that includes Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, and Jon Bernthal.

In its reliance on the river setting and the personal dilemmas of the protagonists, the movie reminds me a lot of "The Cure," and it unfortunately shares some of the same problems, like loose plotting and a third act that wraps up a little too tidily to feel natural. Still, I enjoyed seeing a local boy like Gottsagen make good, and I do recommend "The Peanut Butter Falcon."

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Miscellany: Condition White EDC

On a typical weekend in the office, I'm working behind three sets of locked doors with no one around, so I let my guard down and go into the much-maligned "Condition White". I do still have some minimal gear on me in case I need to ramp up my awareness level quickly:

Keys (with Fisher trekker pen, Victorinox Rambler knife, and Surefire Titan flashlight)
Phone (iPhone 5s with cellular data, wireless, and Bluetooth disabled for max standby time)
Wallet (SlimFold Micro softshell)
Leatherman Skeletool
Shivworks Clinch Pick (in Dark Star Gear belt wrap sheathe)
S&W 642 Performance Center (in PHLster City Special holster)

And while it's not ideal, there's a Dark Angel Medical trauma kit stashed off-body in my desk drawer, because you can never be too careful.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Books: Forrest Griffin and Sam Sheridan Double Double Feature (Part 1 - On Doomsday Prepping)

In a strange bit of synchronicity, author/fighter Sam Sheridan and fighter/author Forrest Griffin have each written a bestselling book on fighting and a bestselling book on surviving the apocalypse, so I thought it'd be fun to review all of them.

The second pair of books are about preparing for the End of Days:

The Disaster Diaries, by Sam Sheridan

Author Sam Sheridan chronicled his experiences learning survival skills with all sorts of subject matter experts in "The Disaster Diaries." From the obvious (defensive shooting with Tiger McKee and primitive survival with Cody Lundin) to the esoteric (boosting cars with an ex-gang member and stunt driving with Rick Seaman), each chapter deals with stuff you'll probably need to know in a grid-down, end-of-the-world type situation...or even just your garden-variety hurricane or earthquake.

Speaking as someone who has taken classes in shooting and wilderness survival and reported on them in this very blog, "The Disaster Diaries" reads like the world's best after-action report. While it isn't a how-to manual and certainly won't replace real training, Sheridan does a fine job of giving the reader an idea of what to expect in the kinds of courses he writes about. His training vignettes are interwoven with a post-apocalyptic frame story that feels contrived at first, but gets better as the book goes on; I wonder if he'll ever try his hand at fiction.

Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down: A Survival Guide to the Apocalypse, by Forrest Griffin and Erich Krauss

Forrest Griffin and co-writer Erich Krauss's first book, "Got Fight?" was crudely humorous, but also fairly well-rooted in Griffin's life as a pro MMA fighter. Their second book, "Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down," ups the humor (just look at the cover) but unfortunately loses many of the biographical bits that made the first one more than a joke.

The book cycles through some of the same stuff Sheridan's did - Forrest and Erich recognize that skills like shooting, driving, wilderness skills, and hunting will all be critical in a SHTF situation, and there are some accurate nuggets of information scattered throughout the book. The problem is that there's a lot of juvenile fluff obscuring that information, including a lengthy-and-sorta-useless manliness "test" at the front. The signal-to-noise ratio is such that I can't recommend the book to anyone but the most hardcore Griffin fans who want to have some yuks on a long flight.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Music: Abzû

Since one of my clients does work related to marine science, I've been drafting stuff for them whilst listening to the lush score for "Abzû," a walking swimming simulator set in a cosmic ocean. Composer Austin Wintory (who also worked on the music for "Journey") does a fantastic job accompanying the game's setting. The soaring strings, haunting choirs, and playful oboes evoke the teeming sea life in "Abzû," and make perfect background music for an otherwise-ordinary Friday at the office.

Listen here:

Friday, August 09, 2019

Books: Forrest Griffin and Sam Sheridan Double Double Feature (Part 1 - On Fighting)

In a strange bit of synchronicity, author/fighter Sam Sheridan and fighter/author Forrest Griffin have each written a bestselling book on fighting and a bestselling book on surviving the apocalypse, so I thought it'd be fun to review all of them.

The first pair of books are about fighting:

A Fighter's Heart, by Sam Sheridan

Writer Sam Sheridan has led a pretty colorful life - he's been a sailor, a firefighter, a cowboy - but one of his biggest passions is fighting. In "A Fighter's Heart," Sheridan takes the reader on a global tour of his fight training, whether it's trying to get a ground game from the Brazilian Top Team or learning the "soft" arts in a New York tai chi chuan studio.

The book's best and longest sections are Sheridan's description of his early experience training Muay Thai at Fairtex, and his time with then-new boxer Andre Ward and his trainer Virgil Hunter. But I thought a chapter dealing with Hollywood stuntwork seemed out of place (it does include some insight into the late Paul Walker), and Sheridan unfortunately glosses over the serious problems of the combat sports (CTE and PED use, for starters).

Got Fight?, by Forrest Griffin and Erich Krauss

Much like Sheridan, Forrest Griffin started out as an amateur, doing local fights whilst working as a bouncer and Georgia cop. Unlike Sheridan, Griffin stuck with fighting, got a big break by winning "The Ultimate Fighter," and went on to become UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. "Got Fight?" is Griffin's summation of his experiences - part biography, part self-help book, and part MMA technique manual.

"Summation" is probably too fancy a word for it. While clearly co-writer Erich Krauss (a former Muay Thai fighter) ironed out some of the rough edges, "Got Fight?" is not one of those sanitized martial arts memoirs. There's a ton of juvenile, crude, non-PC humor and goofy inset testimonials from Griffin's friends (seemingly to assure the reader that, yes, Griffin is that crazy). Still, if you want to read a book from someone who has been there and done that, this is one of the best out there.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

News: QFT

Clayton Cramer connects the dots on mental illness and the recent horrific mass murders:
The Navy Yard shooter?  He told police that he was being controlled by microwaves.  He was not taken in for observation.  The Virginia Tech shooter? A judge told him to go to a mental hospital, but it wasn’t mandatory.  He left after one day.  The Sutherland Springs church shooter?  The military involuntarily committed him, but neglected to inform the FBI that this guy was now prohibited for life from buying or owning a gun.  The 2012 Aurora shooter?  His psychiatrist warned the police that he was dangerous, but Colorado law essentially asks a person to show up to discuss if he is crazy.  The Parkland shooter?  School staff had wanted involuntary commitment; Florida’s Baker Act would certainly have allowed that commitment  if the police had used it.  As with everything else, they dropped the ball.  Unfortunately, I can give you lots more.  I am writing the least cheery book in history.
Read the whole thing.

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