Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Miscellany: 9/21/21

I just discovered the annual dance videos comedian Demi Adejuyigbe releases on September 21st, set to Earth, Wind & Fire's immortal classic "September." They've gotten increasingly elaborate over the years, with today's iteration featuring multiple sets, backup dancers, and even anti-grav special effects:



Thursday, September 16, 2021

Miscellany: A look back at Dragon Con 2013

We didn't go to Dragon Con this year (the convention was famous for getting you sick even before the pandemic), so I thought I'd look back at 2013's con, where we all coordinated to dress up as the Young Avengers.  Yours truly donned a Wiccan costume whilst scrambling through the myriad ballrooms and hallways of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.  Fittingly, the hotel was later used in the filming of Marvel's streaming series Loki.




Of course, some people had more elaborate costumes than ours:



One interesting pic from my archives - the old Armory exhibit, back when they displayed firearms:


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Music: Every Summertime

My friends and I really enjoyed Marvel's latest blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie did a good job of righting some of the MCU's questionable casting decisions, not just with an all-Asian cast, but also with a bopping soundtrack produced by Sean Miyashiro and 88rising.

This was my first time hearing the many fine musicians featured, and my favorite was Indonesian singer NIKI. Her dreamy track "Every Summertime" combines a funky riff with wistful vocals.  I love the music video, set conspicuously in an Asian supermarket:



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years Ago

Standing around in high school TOK class, watching the morning news.

Stunned murmurs and uneasy speculation from my classmates.

Our teacher, on the phone, frantically trying to reach her daughter in the NYPD.

Sickened wail from everyone when the first tower falls.

Not sure how anyone could ever forget.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Guns: Freedom Ordnance FX-9 review - Brace for Impact

Introduction

So I will start this review off with a big disclaimer - while AR-style pistols with stabilizing braces have been sold for years now to millions of law-abiding people, the BATFE is currently taking comments on a proposed rule change that would effectively turn most of these firearms into short-barreled rifles, and their owners into felons

I do not own the Freedom Ordnance FX-9 being reviewed here (no, seriously, I don't), and I think the proposed rule is a Bad Idea™. However, if the rule goes into effect, the FX-9, even as benignly configured for this review, will be illegal in the eyes of the BATFE. Now, whether the Bureau's rule passes muster under the Second Amendment is in the hands of the judiciary (who invalidated a similar rule against "bump stocks" earlier this year), but you can spend a lot of time rotting in federal prison waiting for an appellate decision.

With that unhappy caveat in mind, let's look at the gun...

Design and Features

The FX-9 is a 9mm blowback pistol in an AR-ish configuration (the receivers are shorter than a regular AR, and many other parts differ) that takes GLOCK 9mm magazines. The gun comes with a top Picatinny rail and M-LOK compatible slots all around the handguard. For this review, I slapped on a Holosun reflex sight (you'll need a riser) and a SureFire M600DF scout light, which both worked perfectly.

The FX-9 comes with a Shockwave Blade brace. Since it's just a flat plastic plate, it's not good for stabilizing the gun against your arm, nor is it good for shouldering the gun (more on that below). To be honest, it feels like the brace is there just because having a naked buffer tube would look weird.


Another cosmetic-type item I could do without is the faux suppressor on the FX-9's barrel. It's not offensive, per se, but it serves no purpose and just adds weight and expense. I would've been happy with just a thread protector.


Range Report

The big advantage of a carbine-patterned pistol like the FX-9 is that it's much easier to hit with than a regular pistol. Very few shooters, myself included, can manage a 1.5" group at 25 yards without some sort of mechanical rest, but getting that kind of accuracy from the FX-9 was pretty easy:



Shooting the gun was interesting in a couple of other ways. While the FX-9 was very reliable in my testing, the blowback system generated more recoil than you might expect from a five pound 9mm.  I wonder about the long-term durability of the piece with all that punishment.  

More importantly, the FX-9 is one of the most uncomfortable guns you will ever use if you shoulder it, because the thin plastic "fin" of the Shockwave brace digs in with every shot and will eventually leave you bruised and sore. After a few rounds, I switched to either shooting the gun one-handed, or cheeking it without actually pressing it against my shoulder. Ironically, the Shockwave actually prevents you from using the FX-9 as an end-around of the SBR provisions of the National Firearms Act, even though the BATFE might not see it that way.

Conclusion

The FX-9, before the pandemic, cost about $600, making it one of the best "bang for your buck" carbine-patterned pistols out there. The gun has some quirks and flaws, sure, and the CMMG pistols are still probably the king of the hill, but I would have no qualms about using the FX-9 for home or vehicle defense.

Tech: Wasteland 3

Due to the tastes of the "Fortnite"-crazed gaming public, there are very few turn-based RPGs being made nowadays, and almost none that support online co-op. InXile Entertainment's "Wasteland 3" is the exception that proves the rule.  The title only saw the light of day thanks to a $3 million crowdfunding campaign, the know-how of Brian Fargo and his ex-Interplay devs, and perhaps most importantly, the 2018 acquisition of the studio by Microsoft. Thankfully, all that firepower resulted in a really good game:


Like prior entries in the series, "Wasteland 3" tasks you with leading a band of Desert Rangers through a vast and mostly-hostile world. This time, you're stuck in frozen Colorado to get supplies for Ranger HQ back in Arizona.  An early ambush kills most of your team, and from there the game opens up with lots of branching choices. Do you ally with the local strongman to get the supplies you need? Plot to overthrow him? Or ignore all of that to pursue revenge for your fallen comrades?

It's refreshing to have a 2020 mid-budget game offer that kind of freedom - not the lazily-plotted "sandbox" of other open world titles, but multiple scripted events that affect both each other and your Rangers' reputation in the game. What's more, the full 35-hour main campaign can be played in online multiplayer, as my friend Ziggy and I did. In trade for that, I will gladly accept the unbalanced combat (which typically snowballs into either a rout of the enemy or your untimely murder), weird interface quirks, and the occasional bug or two.

Rating: 83/100 (add 10 to the rating if you're looking for a co-op RPG)

TV: Classic Arts Showcase

Palm Beach County's official TV channel, PBC TV, mostly broadcasts the kind of bland programming you'd expect from a government station: interminable county commission meetings, public service announcements, and hyper-local community interest shows. 

Every weekend evening, though, the soul-crushing monotony of school district and zoning commission meetings gives way to Classic Arts Showcase:


CAS is a satellite programming service funded by the Lloyd E. Rigler – Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation. It's sort of a highbrow MTV, featuring short clips of classical music, opera, and ballet, along with the occasional short film or live theatre excerpt. If you're a fan of the performing arts, it's a relaxing way to discover new works - one minute you might be watching a ballet set to "Rhapsody in Blue," the next a solo from by Annegeer Stumphius from Haydn's "The Seasons."

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Guns: Ruger Mini-14 Tactical review - A plan comes together


Introduction

If you watched The A-Team back in the '80s, you might remember all the bloodless gunfights with hip-fired Ruger Mini-14s that were standing in for Ruger's fully automatic AC556 assault rifles:

The Rugers in the show looked impractical and silly as hell, but they still seemed fun to shoot. Since not every gun has to have some Serious Purpose, I set out to build something similar. I quickly discovered that getting a reproduction folding stock like Hannibal and Co. used would cost almost $300 (on top of the cost of a stainless steel Mini-14).

So, I went the cheap route, picking up a Mini-14 Tactical chambered in 5.56, along with a Choate folding stock. Could the Mini, configured like it was on The A-Team, at least keep up with my two ARs, the Housegun and Son of Frankencarbine?

Sights and Trigger

The Ruger Mini-14 rifle has always been the RC Cola to the AR-15's Coke - it does the same thing in the same way, but without the refinement and flair of the name brand. It starts with the iron sights: the Ruger fixed front blade and rear aperture are about as tough as a set of A1 or A2 sights, but adjusting the Mini's rear sight requires a hex wrench and is just a lot more finicky. Ruger includes scope rings and bases so that you can mount a traditional scope relatively easily, but adding a modern red dot takes slightly more effort than a flattop AR.

The Mini-14 trigger situation is much like the sights - serviceable enough for a defensive carbine, but a bit outdated in 2021. The trigger can certainly be gunsmithed into something special, but it's tougher to do compared to the hojillion AR drop-in replacement match triggers you can get off the Internet. And don't get me started on the M1 Garand-style safety - not sure what genius designed a safety that requires you to put your finger insider the trigger guard to use it.

Folding Stock


The synthetic fixed stock that came with the Mini-14 Tactical worked fine, but I think the Choate folding stock suits the gun much better. The default fixed stock is too long for a lot of cases and bags designed for 16" barrel AR carbines, but with the Choate stock folded, the Mini is actually shorter than the typical AR. Plus, if you're in a very tight space, you can shoot the Mini with the Choate stock folded, though I won't vouch for your practical accuracy.

Range Report

That brings us to the big knock on Mini-14s - that they're less accurate than an equivalent AR. Broadly speaking, I found that to be true, though the Mini might be "accurate enough" for your purposes. 

Like most folks these days, I had limited ammo to spare, so I carefully shot a few groups with the stock iron sights off a hasty rest. I got about 1.5" from PMC XTAC XP193 55 gr. at 25 yards - that's a little worse than my DDM4, but not by much, plus you don't get any height-over-bore issues with a Mini:


Lake City XM855 wasn't as accurate, grouping at over 2" at 25 yards.


Finally, I got roughly 2" from TulAmmo 55 gr. .223 at 25 yards.


Conclusion

Even today, there are diehard fans of the Mini-14, and I do see the appeal - it's a relatively handy, lightweight semiauto rifle with a cool Garand-like action. The wood-stocked models are a little less threatening than the typical AR, and can sometimes be used in jurisdictions where the AR is verboten. But in the end, it's a civilian-developed gun, and I'd much rather use a rifle system where the bugs have been worked out through decades of combat.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Music: 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

If you're a classical music fan, and especially if you're a fan of Frédéric Chopin, you should be watching the XVIII Międzynarodowy Konkurs Pianistyczny im. Fryderyka Chopina (commonly known as the "Chopin Competition"). Held every five years and delayed from last year due to the pandemic, the Chopin Competition is one of the oldest classical music competitions around:


The preliminary round, which runs from July 12 to 23, 2021, features 160 young professional pianists from around the world, but mostly Eastern Europe and Asia. They're all competing in a desperate battle to pass into the main stage of the competition, held in October. There will be etudes, nocturnes, and mazurkas aplenty, and the whole event is streaming live and free via YouTube, thanks to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute and (by extension) the Polish government.

Tech: Katana Zero

Katana Zero is an interesting little game from Askiisoft. As you might be able to tell from the pixel art aesthetic, this is a semi-retro action title that mixes elements of Ninja Gaiden, Hotline Miami, and Max Payne into a frothy neo-noir narrative:


You play as an amnesiac samurai assassin in a neon dystopia. Your strikes are almost always instantly lethal to enemies, you can reflect bullets with your sword, and you can even slow down time. The catch is that you are just as vulnerable as the goons you are slaying, and any hit from anything is instant death.

Or it would be, were it not for a strange drug called Chronos that gives you superhuman precognition. Each level is broken down into small sections that you can repeat ad nauseam, with deaths being rewound and explained away as merely failed plans (sort of like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or the end fight in the second Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes flick). Chronos also figures heavily into the plot, which turns trippy in a way I won't spoil here.

I liked Katana Zero overall, but I wish there were more of it - more gameplay mechanics, more enemies, more levels. The whole thing is over and done with in a few hours, and there aren't too many secrets or challenges to hold your interest - this is no Celeste.  Still, if you can find it on sale (I played it on Microsoft Game Pass), it's well worth a try.

Rating: 80/100