Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Miscellany: Poker Night

Playing Texas Hold 'Em with people who have just learned the hand values is sort of like playing chess with someone who just learned how the pieces move - they might be able to grasp the basic mechanics, and, indeed, can pantomime a good game, but they have no chance against someone who knows what they're doing.

Small advantages turn into larger ones, and soon the underdog player is forced into increasingly desperate gambits. Apparent victories for the embattled newcomer quickly disappear into crushing defeats. In the end, there's simply no hope.

Remind me why I'm playing poker with the guys again tonight? :-)

High Card
One Pair
Two Pair
Three of a Kind
Full House
Four of a Kind
Straight Flush

Guns: A CCW Retrospective (Part 4)

The first handgun I carried regularly was the CZ 2075 RAMI 9mm. The RAMI is a fairly recent example of a continuing trend in autoloading handguns - the subcompact. Due in part to the now-expired "Assault Weapons" Ban and the increasing number of concealed carry permits being issued in the U.S., the market for service-style pistols with shorter grips and barrels has exploded. Guns of this type include the GLOCK 26, the XD subcompact, and the Para Warthog, and, in general, they are good choices for concealed carry if you can get used to not having a full grip.

When I first got it, the RAMI was definitely a mixed bag - one of the 10-rounders that came with it was defective, only holding 9 rounds. The gun was fairly small, but chunky, and you could only really get two fingers on the grip when drawing or shooting it. It was surprisingly accurate for a 2" barreled carry pistol, but I was definitely on the fence about it.

Luckily, I had the foresight to order a good holster and a good belt (note - nowadays, custom holsters take quite a bit of time to receive - wait times at K&D are up to three months). The RAMI, for all its ergonomics issues, concealed well and comfortably, and it was suitably reliable for my needs...

Of course, such things are not meant to last. My RAMI began having fatal failure-to-extracts after about 2000-odd rounds. I tried replacing the recoil spring and the ejector spring, and this got the gun back up to about 98%, but not good enough to carry. The search, as always, continues...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Movies: The Punisher

I never read "The Punisher" growing up. The character seemed fairly dull when compared to the various super-powered heroes blazing across the pages of other, more facile comics. So when I saw the film adaptation, I didn't have any biases or prejudices.

This is the rare example of an action movie that is almost killed by its ending. The vast majority of action movies end with some kind of climactic Final Showdown with the antagonist (Die Hard, Speed, Terminator 2, etc.), and "The Punisher" is no different. Unfortunately, the last fifteen minutes of the movie feature some of the most listless and boring fighting ever put to film.

Thankfully, there are some standout scenes in the movie, including a comical fight with Kevin Nash and the beach house massacre. Thomas Jane puts in a pretty good performance, and there's no CGI here - just good old practical effects. Rebecca Romijn looks good here and does a decent job, even without all that blue Mystique makeup. The package as a whole, though, feels woefully uneven and it's not a movie I'd watch again - even for free.

Rating: 6/10

Guns: A CCW Retrospective (Part 3)

One of the first used pistols I ever bought was a Star BM 9mm. As Stephen A. Camp's excellent review makes clear, the gun was inexpensive, but not "cheap." Star pistols were often used in Hollywood because of their obvious resemblance to the classic 1911-pattern, but internally, they have some key mechanical differences.

The BM was of a great size for concealed carry - very flat, with a just-big-enough handle that you could squeeze all of your fingers onto when firing. The sights were decent, similar to a GI 1911 but perhaps a bit bigger. My particular specimen had a good trigger. So far, so good...

Shooting it was a mixed experience. The hammer bit my hand pretty badly - worse than even a Browning Hi-Power. The piece would have the occasional fail-to-feed, which put it out of the running almost immediately. More vexing, though, was the cold hard facts associated with a surplus pistol like this; to put it simply, they ain't making any more of these, meaning that spare parts and spare mags might be hard to come by. For the price, it could have been a contender had it been reliable, though.

Monday, January 29, 2007

News: Time to channel Tam

Well, here's the latest in the War on (some) Drugs. Apparently an 80 year-old Jacksonville man was shot by undercover police recently. While all the facts aren't quite in, it would seem reasonable that Mr. Singletary would mistake the two officers for armed drug dealers because, in fact, the two officers were posing as armed drug dealers. Neighbors have said that in the past, Singletary would take his gun and try to scare some of the criminal element away. Not the best course of action, admittedly, but at least it's better than sitting around and letting the gangbangers control the neighborhood.

I also realize that officers should defend themselves like anyone else, but if you're "pretending" to deal drugs in front of someone's house, and that person grabs a .357 and tells you repeatedly to get off the property, you don't make him drop his gun. You don't draw your gun. You walk away and avoid anyone dying. What is it with cops and elderly folk? Or does narcotics just draw the worst of the worst sometimes?

Miscellany: A real head-scratcher

Yes, that's right. The likes of Disney/Square-Enix, makers of the wildly popular, millions-selling video game series "Kingdom Hearts," have teamed up with "Florida's Natural" brand fruit snacks to bring you...some cardboard cutouts of Sora and friends!

Really, this is just about the strangest thing I've ever seen. I'm not sure how a Florida citrus coop could swing such a lucrative promotion. You'd think Sora, Donald, and Goofy would be much more likely to appear on a box of "Fruit-by-the-Foot" or "Fruit Roll-Ups" than an obscure, Florida-only brand. Then again, who knows? Maybe someone at Florida's Natural had some dirt on Eisner or something.

Guns: A CCW Retrospective (Part 2)

*** Kel-Tec P3AT ***
Today's former CCW was my first (and probably last) attempt at carrying a pocket auto. Chambered in .380 ACP, the Kel-Tec is probably the smallest thing I'd ever seriously consider carrying as a primary firearm. It only weighs half a pound unloaded, and even when stuffed into a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster (which fits it perfectly, BTW), it's only slightly bigger in a pocket than the average wallet.

The P3AT shot fairly well, too. Recoil was pleasant but the muzzle flip was tremendous - the thing wanted to jump out of your hand with each shot. The P3AT was inexpensive, fairly accurate, and well-suited to concealed carry. So why'd I sell it? You might notice a theme with these posts...

After 200 trouble free rounds (not all in one session, mind you), I started getting chronic fail-to-extracts. A FTExtract is when the extractor slips off of the rim of the just-fired cartridge for whatever reason, leaving that case in the chamber instead of ejecting it and jamming the next round's nose into the whole shebang. I don't know any way to clear such a malfunction short of yanking the magazine out, working the slide furiously, and loading from the mag again.

Needless to say, if this kind of failure ever happens with a pistol, I stop carrying it immediately and try to fix it. I sent it back to Kel-Tec, and after a wait of four weeks (!) I finally got the gun back. They said they had "polished the slide ramp" (I winced - polishing the slide ramp has nothing to do with this type of failure, and even if it did, it rarely does any good). Sure enough, after two magazine's worth of rounds, the problem evinced itself yet again. So I read in the forums about how to tighten the extractor bolt, tightened it, and sold the gun off with full disclosure.

Not that all Kel-Tecs are bad, nor that all P3ATs are bad - the moral of the story is that if you're going to run a pocket auto, you'd better get all the bugs worked out, first.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Links: X-Entertainment

If you look at some of my previous posts, it's no secret the spirit of the 80s and early 90s hangs heavily in my mind. When you grow up in a certain time, it's hard to ignore the obvious appeal of looking back with (sometimes) rose-colored glasses.

X-Entertainment is a site and a blog that reminisces - nay, revels - in the mystical period of time after "Star Wars" but before "The Phantom Menace." A time when Saturday morning cartoons weren't all anime ripoffs, when the NES reigned supreme, when Marty McFly and ALF took the nation by storm.

They have plenty of fascinating articles (well, depending on your affinity for nostalgia), but my favorite article is a movie review of "The Wizard," a 90 minute long Nintendo infomercial-cum-movie featuring some of the most iconic aspects of that era - Fred Savage, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Real Life's classic single, "Send Me An Angel."

Guns: A CCW Retrospective (Part 1)

Here's a new series of posts dedicated to every firearm I've ever carried. I'm a firm believer that to truly know a handgun, you have to lug it around with you in everyday life. After a lot of trial and error, you find out what works, and what doesn't. Most of the time, this type of experience is personal and subjective - I'm not claiming that what works for me works for everyone else. :-)

*** Springfield 1911 Stainless Loaded ***

Somewhere along the line, everyone has to get a 1911. Whether it's the beginning of a huge collection or simply another pistol depends a lot on that first experience. For the full review of this pistol, hop on over to THR - I'm going to concentrate on how a fullsize 1911 carries.

It's a heavy gun, to be sure. For people used to polymer-framed GLOCK 19s and even the alloy-framed SIGs, a 5" barreled all-steel pistol feels like an anchor. People cite the 1911's thinness as a boon, but many pistols are just as thin (at least in terms of slide thickness, which is the part that affects comfort the most since it's what you stuff in your pants). Most agree that to carry one of these suckers inside-the-waistband, you're gonna need a quality holster, belt, and proper pants.

On the other hand, the 1911 does have a rather thin frame and thin magazines, especially for the caliber. Good holsters for the 1911 are fairly common, and when you get all set up, you can definitely get a comfy setup that can serve day in and day out.

I ended up selling the Springfield, mostly because I had a fail-to-eject at around round #500, which is a deal-breaker in a carry pistol IMO. It's the kind of failure a casual shooter might never notice (how many people put 500 rounds through their carry gun in one sitting?), but if you're going to spend $700 on a Brazilian-made pistol, you might as well demand it work 100%.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Movies: Red Dawn

I have a confession to make: I've never seen "Red Dawn" until tonight. Surprised? Confused? Perhaps some perspective is needed.

For any gun nerd under 30, "Red Dawn" is pretty much required viewing. This is the ultimate, Shit Hits The Fan (SHTF) scenario. I'll let the trailer explain it better.

Yeah, it's basically a cheesy 80s action flick, but look at the cast! Patrick Swayze! Charlie Sheen! And don't forget Lea Thompson, who has probably spent most of her life trying to forget how she blew away Russian soldiers with an AK in this movie.

It's stupid, nonsensical fun, but it's still fairly entertaining. Director John Milius (of "Conan the Barbarian" fame) does a fine job of beautifully filming the Rockies and putting together coherent action. For gunnies, there's the fact that the invading army nefariously knows about 4473s and uses that to hunt down gun owners. Why they would go after people that they know can fight back is sort of a mystery, though.

Rating: 7/10, depending on how much you go for corny 80s stuff

Music: Canned Heat

While I was familiar with this Jamiroquai song from watching "Napoleon Dynamite," I really heard it a bunch of times while playing "Elite Beat Agents" on the DS over the break.

Here's both the original Jamiroquai music video and an S rank playthrough of EBA on "Hard Rock" mode (stupidly hard difficulty).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Food: Dinner from Hell II

This is sort of a sequel to this post.

Open-faced PB & J (doubles the time it takes to eat, fooling you into thinking it's more food than it actually is), some week-old baked brie (pretty big chunk right there - it's got some sweet glazed nuts on top, too), a Guinness Extra Stout (best mass-produced stout on the market - wait, it's the only mass-produced stout on the market), and some Altoids for dessert (Altoids have basically no calories, though).

I kill me. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Guns: Best buys in surplus military rifles

Technically, the title of this post is a misnomer: most any old military rifle is a good buy nowadays, what with the increasing cost and decreasing quality of the rifles being manufactured commercially. Many of these rifles were made for the most extreme conditions imaginable, and so were over-engineered to be incredibly tough. Others are simply products of a time when labor was cheap and companies didn't cut corners substituting in inferior parts.

For more of this kind of stuff, I heartily recommend Tam's old-school gun blog.

***The Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle (M44 variant pictured)***

Shooting the 7.62x54R round (comparable to the .30-06), the Mosin-Nagant was the bastard child of Russian and Belgian development. In point of fact, the Belgian design was probably better, but Russian pride being what it is, Sergei Mosin's design was used as well.

This is the gun that Russian soldiers carried during the Battle of Stalingrad. It is still reportedly being used in the fighting in Afghanistan, meaning the Mosin has now served through three centuries (1891 through 2006).

I had an M38 (short carbine variant without a bayonet). It was as accurate as I was, shooting 2" groups from the prone position at 50 yards with the stock iron sights. It never jammed, even when fed decades-old surplus ammo, and it made an impressive fireball. I regret selling it to this day - it'd make a superb "truck gun" or even a SHTF bolt-action rifle. (if you don't know what SHTF means, stay tuned for future posts)

***The SKS semiautomatic rifle***

After the M1 Garand schooled the rest of the world, other countries fell all over themselves in adopting semiautomatic (and then automatic) rifles. The SKS was the precursor to the AK series, though despite what you might hear, they are more different than alike.

The SKS shoots the readily available 7.62x39 (seriously, go to Iraq and I'm sure you can find 7.62x39 lying in the street there), which is a huge plus. It won't win any points for ergonomics (the thing handles like a broomstick), and the stripper-clip reload seems very WWII, but aside from that, a nice SKS is more than capable of taking care of 90% of what you'd need a carbine for.

If it works, that is. An SKS can be a wonderful thing. My personal SKS was unfailingly reliable, comfy to shoot, but not very accurate. It can also be a curse - if the relatively thin gas system or the extractor starts giving you problems, it can be quite a hassle to fix. Then again, the next one down is only $150 away...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tech: Choosing an inkjet

I bought an HP Deskjet 5400 at the beginning of the fall semester, mostly because it was the cheapest inkjet I could find. So far, it's been reliable and fairly fast, with decent image/text quality. There is one huge shortcoming though - the ink cartridges are tiny (only 5 mL).

This is something you'll rarely find splattered all over the front. While DPI and PPM seem to be the standard metrics of printer performance, having a printer with a small ink reservoir is like having a Ford GT - it goes really fast, but after about an hour of hard driving, you're gonna need some gas.

The problem can be partly assuaged by getting a refill kit, but even then, smaller cartridges mean more muss and fuss since they still have to be filled more often.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

News: State of the Union

Once, just once, I'd like to have a POTUS say, "The state of the union is ... well ... meh."

This annual TV ritual seems designed mostly to force people to get cable or satellite TV. Who watches this sort of thing for fun? Political junkies? Let's face it - nobody is going to be swayed or surprised by the speech, there's always going to be polite applause for the President (well, except for Tricky Dick), and everybody is gonna leave that chamber a couple hours older. I'm not sure it's safe gathering two of the three branches of the all in one conveniently destroyable place, either.

To paraphrase "Brazil," it's a waste of American time and paper.

School: Much ado about nothing

The National Jurist recently ran an article questioning the propriety of how schools compete for their U.S. News and World Report school rankings.

If you've never thought about becoming a lawyer, here's how it works - college GPA and LSAT determine what law school you can get into, and law school grades/law review determine what your first-job offers will be like.

And that's it. How far you go from there is largely up to how hard you can work and how good a lawyer you can be.

Tom Bell, a law professor at Chapman University School of Law, complains that UF's law school (Levin) is ranked 41 when it should be ranked 43. Turns out Levin only submitted the fall class stats instead of both the fall and spring class stats (it's a moot point anyway - Levin has already switched to just one entering class in the fall).

Is there any controversy here? Is there even anything newsworthy to report? Anybody who knows legal education knows that for the most part, the rankings are a complete waste of time, as law school itself has very little to do with actually practicing law. Even disregarding those facts, a two spot error is hardly something to call the papers over.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Miscellany: Crappy products

This is a "Hawaiian Breeze" box fan, made in (where else?) China.

I've been to Oahu and Maui, and a "Hawaiian breeze" doesn't feel anything like this.

Imagine the sound a 1950s-era DC-7 taking off makes, and you get the general idea of how loud this thing is. It's hard to concentrate through the cacophony, but worse still is the tendency for the damn thing to slide back and flip over from the force of the air it's expelling.

Strangely enough, I found another example of this exact same fan in my laundry room. Turns out the previous tenant didn't like it either and left it here.

Yup, it's that bad. But at least it was only $10.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

TV: Ace of Cakes

While most of the Food Network's cooking shows are pretty square (that is, no one under the age of 18 is likely to watch Michael Chiarello prepare a roast chicken with wine glaze), there is one show that might be labeled "hip" - "Ace of Cakes," starring cake chef Duff Goldman and his crew.

Duff specializes in the kinds of cakes you always see on TV but probably will never get to have at your own wedding/birthday/wake - weirdly shaped, sumptuously detailed, and elaborately themed. His company, Charm City Cakes, has made cakes shaped like a flamingo, Wrigley Field, and the Capitol building. The show's popularity (and of course the quality of the cakes themselves) mean that actually getting one of CCC's cakes requires months of advance notice.

The show itself is a by-the-numbers reality TV show, but instead of whiny twenty-somethings competing in stupid challenges, you get Duff and his friends - a funny band of artists, musicians, and creative types - making cakes. While the company seems pretty laid-back (they don't mind joking around or cursing on camera), they also know how to buckle down and get the cakes done. In the end, it's Duff and his friends that make the show so lively.

Guns: Concealed Weapons Courses

Xavier's post about his CHP renewal class reminded me that I've never actually taken any formal "concealed carry" course. Instead, I took a free hunter safety course run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and that was sufficient for my concealed weapons permit (the hunter safety course was informative and well done, though).

There are many benefits to a formal CWP class. In any decent course, the instructor invariably goes through all the legal ramifications of carrying a gun, including how and when to use it in self-defense. If the student is not one to pore over gun forums, webpages, or defense-oriented books, it can be very useful for someone to digest all the info into something that is easily consumed. Nearly all courses nowadays incorporate range time, more to make sure people are safe and competent with their firearms than to make them dead-eye pistol shooters.

I learned about guns in a different way. My parents never owned one, and no one I knew ever had them, so I pieced together my knowledge, brick by brick, from places like THR and TFL, gun magazines (hey, I didn't know any better - gun mags are more a source of humor nowadays than anything else), and from talking with other shooters. The great part of learning in this fashion is that you can select from a huge cornucopia of information, trying out various things and seeing how they work for you.

One caveat - many people who come to these classes have never even fired a gun before. While this is acceptable to a point, I think most would be better served getting some basic training before moving on to stuff like "reasonable use of deadly force" and "center of mass." Until someone knows how to safely load, fire, unload, and clean a gun, it's not much use as a weapon.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Miscellany: Bike Repair

One unfortunate reality of cyclocommuting is the maintenance involved on your bike. Unless you're flush with money and you live a block away from a bike shop, you're going to have to get your hands dirty. The upside is, though, that aside from the time and labor involved, bike repair is relatively cheap.

One key is to always have the right tools. I bike roughly 50 miles a week in the rough and tumble Gainesville bike lanes, so slow leaks and flat tires do happen. A slow leak can temporarily be countered by some air (I keep a spare pump on the bike for emergencies), but an outright flat demands immediate attention.

I'm not a bike repair whiz, so I dread fixing flats. The worst part, by far, is getting the tire back on the rim after replacing the inner tube. For some reason, it's always harder than I remember, and I'm sure I've ripped up my tires something fierce in my efforts.

I have a flat right now. I'm feeling a bit lazy, so I think I'll let Mr. Goodbike handle this one.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Tech: Wario Ware: Smooth Moves Review

The "Wario Ware" series of games is one of Nintendo's newest franchises, starting with the original GBA game and progressing through titles for the GameCube and the DS. Centered around super-short minigames (microgames, you might say), they are all about manic, fast-paced action.

The Wii version was just released, and it's probably the best Wii game since the North American launch. Like all the Wario Ware games, a straight playthrough of the single player might only last 2 to 3 hours. There's a ton of replayability, here, though - you'll miss out on a bunch of games the first time through, and it's inherently fun to see how long you can last as the games' speed and difficulty ramp up.

In "Smooth Moves," you'll use the Wii Remote in a huge variety of ways - from swatting flies to jumping rope to driving a car. It becomes quite a spectacle when players get into it. This is also a family friendly game, with enough goofy Japanese humor to keep all ages enthralled...for a while.

There are only a few unlockables and less long-term reasons to come back to the singleplayer mode, which is the game's primary shortcoming. It's a bit of a tribute to the core action of the game that you wished it lasted longer, but it's something holding the title back from being great.

Rating: 80/100

Thursday, January 18, 2007

News: "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" backfires

Remember that radio station contest where contestants drank water without going to the bathroom in hopes of getting a Nintendo Wii? The radio station that fired ten employees over the incident? Yeah, now the people involved are being investigated by the police.

Here's the California involuntary manslaughter statute from CA Penal Code Section 192, emphasis mine (not sure if this is the charge the prosecutor will select, but it'll probably be included):

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice...

(b) Involuntary--in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.

The evidence? I'm just gonna quote GameSpot here:

The DJs had made comments joking about people dying from water intoxication during the show, according to the Sacramento Bee. There was even a discussion about a "poor kid in college"--presumably Matthew Carrington, who also died from water intoxication after a fraternity hazing ritual. One person dismissed the link by saying, "Yeah, well, he was doing other things." During the show, one DJ also admitted, "Maybe we should have researched this."

Two hours into the contest, a female caller, who identified herself as Eva, phoned in to warn the radio station that drinking too much water can kill. She said, "Those people that are drinking all that water can get sick and possibly die from water intoxication." One DJ replied, "We are aware of that," while another added, "They signed releases, so we're not responsible. It's OK."

Twenty contestants took part in the competition, including Strange, who was the runner-up. Other participants said that they became concerned when one woman lay on the ground, with her teeth chattering, and looking pale. At one point Strange was lying on the ground but told staff that she "could probably drink more" if someone could pick her up.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Miscellany: Re-cut movie trailers

With the right editing techniques, you can easily change the entire tone of a film (see the "Love Conquers All" version of "Brazil" if you don't believe me). One neat byproduct of the Youtube age is that amateur editors can prepare astonishingly funny parody movie trailers.

Here are two of the best examples.

"Scary Mary" re-imagines "Mary Poppins" as a horror flick

"Shining" portrays "The Shining" as an upbeat father-son movie


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Guns: Carry gun reliability

Marko over at "the munchkin wrangler" has an exellent post up on carry gun reliability. As this is a blog, I suppose I should offer my thoughts in response.

I agree that you should always carry a gun that is "no-BS" reliable. For me, that means 400 rounds, with at least three or four different types of ammo, straight through with no malfunctions. I can trust a gun enough to carry it when it's passed that test.

The corrollary to Marko's post is, though, that no gun is guaranteed to be reliable. Boasting that you have a gun that never fails is like boasting you own a toaster that never fails. Nothing lasts forever, and our old friend Entropy will strike your piece, eventually. So I would argue that you always should have some doubt that your gun is going to work.

Sure your GLOCK has been through torture tests...but what if the trigger spring snaps? My personal CZ-75B recently went tits-up after the firing pin broke. And with all semiautos, you're going to need new recoil springs every so often, anyway. As for revolvers as a solution, your old S&W revolver has been a champ - but the trigger return spring is not indestructible on that, either.

Not that you should worry about these things. But they can happen. So when the gun jams in the middle of a fight, do not be surprised. Rather, focus on the front sight, and be pleasantly surprised when the thing actually shoots. :P

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

There are several facets you might need to examine when studying the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (sometimes I wish my name was that long). There's the sunny, "I Have A Dream" third-grade approved sanitized version, there's the politically active speaking-out-against-Vietnam version, there's the wracked-by-scandal version, and finally, there remains simply the man.

I'm not sure if King was a great man. I hold far lower opinions of people like FDR and Lincoln than most of my peers, and, in any case, I'm no judge of moral fiber. But, since I get a day off, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Movies: The Good Shepherd

Directed by Robert De Niro, "The Good Shepherd" is one of those movies that might have been improved by a better story and better editing. In its current form, it's a largely mixed mishmash of romance, spy movie cliches, and a cheerless monotone from Matt Damon.

Set during thirty years of U.S. spying (culminating in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion), Damon plays Edward Wilson, a Yale grad who finds himself pushed into the world of intelligence largely through happenstance. In the end, the similarities with "The Godfather" become almost too large to ignore (I almost expected Laura to get killed by a car bomb).

The performances are fairly good, except for a funny but slightly hammy turn by De Niro himself. The movie is packed to the gills with stars, from the big ones like Damon and Angelina Jolie to well-known character actors like John Turturro and Billy Crudup. Without all the star power, though, the film is basically a mediocre and overlong spy movie.

Rating: 7/10

Tech: Top Overlooked Gamecube Games, Honorable Mentions

Eternal Darkness - I wasn't as enamored with this adventure game as many in the press seemed to be. I never even got around to finishing it. The insanity effects were very cool, though.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes - What happens when you make a great sequel to a classic, "Game of the Year" quality game? For Retro Studios, you get lots of critical praise, and lackluster sales. If you liked the first one, you'll probably like this one.

Pikmin 2 - A neat idea and a good game, but the puzzle aspects of the game can be a little daunting. Daunting as in, "Do I want to spend the time going back and forth to solve this?"

F-Zero GX - Speed, speed, speed. The racing action in this game is well done and should satisy most future-racing fans. "Wipeout" afficionados may be put off by the lack of weapons.

Soul Calibur II - Not an all-time classic like the first SC, but the GC version had Link. 'Nuff said.

Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader - "Star Wars" games tend to unwieldy and long names, and SWRSII:RL is no exception. This was a GC launch title, and it's still one of the prettiest games on the system, as well as the best portrayal of the classic trilogy dogfights ever. A bit short, though.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movies: Jackass 2

A movie like "Jackass 2" seems destined to divide the world into two camps. One will be disgusted, offended, or simply not entertained by the nigh-endless parade of stunts, gags, and pranks. The other will be entertained - either by sheer spectacle, hilarity, or the need for human torment.

Some of these pranks are about as mean-spirited as you can get - trapping someone who has a snake phobia with a (defanged, thankfully) king cobra, or locking someone in a trunk after pulling a gun on them. Since they're all done to the "Jackass" guys, though, we can laugh, even if the same treatment on a regular person would warrant a lawsuit or even a criminal case.

A good number of the stunts are truly impressive - riding a pocketbike through a makeshift loop-the-loop, for example. Other gags are simply sick and involve the kind of scatalogical humor you might expect from a group of young men (well, kinda young - Knoxville is in his thirties and he's starting to look like it). If you've ever wanted to see an erect horse penis, now's your time.

I have a slight sadistic streak, so I'm rating this a 6/10. Your mileage, in this case, may vary.

Tech: Top 5 Overlooked GameCube Games, Part 5

While it's technically not a GC-exclusive title (Namco released a port for Japanese PS2s), "Tales of Symphonia" definitely stands out on the RPG-starved GameCube. The fact that it failed to resonate in the popular consciousness like FFX or Xenosaga is just added reason to put it in this Top 5.

The game is pretty, with an attractive cel-shaded anime style made possible by Kosuke Fujishima (of "Ah! My Goddess" fame), and the voice-acting is competent. The story, like many RPGs, is ultimately forgettable, but while you're playing, it's easily strong enough to motivate you to finish, especially with the appealing, strongly drawn characters.

More importantly, the battle system uses a frenetic, action/fighting game system of control (you take command of a character, moving around and dishing out attacks in real-time). Gone are the half-hour long combat sequences of some RPGs - the longest battle in the game is five minutes, and even dungeons are nice and short.

The game is a good 25 odd hours straight through, with plenty more stuff to do if you're a completist. Like most of the games on this list, it's readily available at most game stores for under $20. If you've got a GC or a Wii, it's worth checking out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Guns: The Perfect Range "Bag"

When you're toting several handguns and a few hundred rounds of ammo, you need something sturdy. From what I've seen, the cheapest and best solution is to grab an old army surplus ammo can. Aside from low cost and wide availability, the ammo can has many other advantages:

1) The thing is practically weatherproof - I bet you could take one into a heavy downpour without getting much moisture inside.

2) It's just the right shape - a nice, square, rigid box that can accept many, many boxes of commercial ammunition.

3) (Related to #1 and #2) It's durable - no stitches, no seams, no fabric, just good old-fashioned metal. You can kick it around some and it won't be worse for the wear. It also has a tough handle and enclosing system.

4) It has a lot of smooth, open surface - perfect for adorning with your favorite gun rights stickers and/or ironic stenciling.

5) If you ever find something better, you can use the ammo can for geocaching.

Tech: Top 5 Overlooked GameCube Games, Part 4

If you've noticed, all the games featured on this list have been Nintendo-developed first-party projects - the big N is pretty untouchable when it comes to the breadth and depth of their design teams. Today's entry is an aberration - Capcom's Resident Evil Zero.

While Resident Evil 4 and the Resident Evil remake hogged all the spotlight, RE:0 proved to be a great, traditional Resident Evil adventure with all-new environments, puzzles, monsters, and story. Starting off in a spooky abandoned train, the action follows Rebecca Chambers and convict Billy Coen as they fight through the events leading up to the original Resident Evil. There's a fairly interesting partner-swapping system, so both Billy and Rebecca can blast away at zombies on the same screen.

This is the last of the traditional RE adventures - but it's also the fairest to the player. Save ribbons and ammunition are in just the right supply - if you run past the enemies you can run past and fight the ones you can't, you should have plenty of firepower to get past the game. The story and voice-acting are pretty good, the graphics are just as good as the RE remake, and overall, it's one of those forgotten GC-exclusive titles.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Food: It's Guinness Time

Okay, so it's not the juggernaut it once was, and frankly, many other dry stouts might be objectively "better," but there's no denying one of the most popular draughts to ever come out of Ireland is Guinness. It's still the stout you're most likely going to find on tap in a bar, and it still bears the shamrock on that creamy head.

I bring up the subject because the first semester grades came in yesterday. I managed to pull in a couple of A's in Contracts and Professional Responsibility, so I'm satisfied, though it's hard to get any kind of reality when our grades are so inflated (the school curves to a 3.15 average or something, which is really sort of ridiculous).

So when the news came in, I cracked open a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, played some Fire Emblem, and relaxed. Sometimes, life can be very, very good. :)

Tech: Top 5 Overlooked GameCube Games, Part 3

Before I started playing Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, I had never played a "Fire Emblem" game before. Developed by Intelligent Systems, this venerable line of strategy-RPGs has been very popular in Japan but made its first home console debut in America with Path of Radiance.

It's available for $20 or less, and, in truth, it's probably the best RPG I've played in recent memory. It cuts all the fat out of the tradional FF/DQ Japanese RPG - there's no wandering around in dungeons, no slogging through endless conversations with townspeople, and no grinding. There is simply story, managing the army, and battle - lots of battle. The game does a great job of easing you in, and after about 5 missions, you become very comfortable.

The crux of Fire Emblem has always been ferocious turn-based battles and massive amounts of story in-between them. Literally dozens of units will join your army, each with their own unique backstory and characteristics. Plan carefully, and that puny archer kid who joined your army 15 battles ago will become a powerhouse - but if you play sloppily and get him killed, you lose him forever.

Yes, character deaths are permanent - there are no Phoenix Downs and no resurrection spells. This adds a ton of stress to the battles - unlike FF Tactics, where you have some leeway with reviving people, if you send your helpless healer into the fray unescorted by stronger units, she'll literally get cut down in a single turn. Every move becomes critical, every attack becomes a nail-biter, and it's great fun because of it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Music: That song that gets stuck in your head...

It's weird how sometimes songs get stuck in your head. Sometimes it's songs you're not crazy about, sometimes it's songs you love, but other times it's just a song that you heard somewhere and simply replay a bit over the course of the day. "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige is one of those songs.

It's not a great song, and the video gets all political toward the end, since it's the hip thing to do nowadays, I guess. But, this is a blog, and it's certainly been stuck in my mind today.

Tech: Top 5 Overlooked GameCube Games, Part 2

While the PS2 has been graced with loads of rhythm games like Amplitude and Guitar Hero (and of course seventeen versions of DDR - and I'm not sure I'm even kidding), the GC has been slim pickings for people who need to react to colorful icons in time with music. Aside from a decent Mario DDR game, the best outlet for your bemani obsession is the Donkey Konga series of games, including Donkey Konga and Donkey Konga 2.

There's a certain novelty to hitting a pair of lifesize plastic bongos, and Donkey Konga plays that angle for all it's worth. As you move through a weird and wild collection of songs (everything from children's lullabies to "Louie Louie" to Good Charlotte's "The Anthem"), you have to tap the bongos and occasionally clap in time to the beats moving onscreen. It's simple, not too challenging for non-hardcore music game players, and fun for everyone.

You can find the bongos and games fairly cheap now, and they work fine with the Wii. Well worth the ~$35 to grab a set of two and both DK games.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guns: Ode to the 642

It caused some consternation in my household, but I still carry my Smith & Wesson Model 642 revolver in my pocket, especially when I don't feel like strapping on a holster and belt. I've heard that the J-frames are S&W's bestselling revolvers, and there's certainly a huge following for these guns, as shown by the enormous thread on "The High Road." This may surprise some folks, but I'm going to try to elicit why this state of affairs exists.

It has been said that the first rule of gunfighting is to "bring a gun." I'd amend that rule to read "bring a reliable gun." More than make, model, or even caliber, whether your gun goes bang when you expect it is the most critical aspect of any firearm used for defense. Most gunfights (and fights in general) are over and done with in seconds, so there probably won't be time to practice those fancy malfunction drills you learned at Gunsite - instead, you need something that will always deliver those first two or three shots, no matter what.

Even though my 642, like all new production 642s, is cursed with S&W's ugly internal lock and decreased manufacturing standards, the 642 is still leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors in terms of reliability. Mine has fired over a thousand rounds (including some 200 round sessions - a long range session for a J-frame, IMO) and is still shooting fine, with no malfunctions to speak of. Though they aren't always perfect out of the box (be especially wary of light firing pin strikes), if they've shot 200 rounds successfully, you can usually trust them for another 2,000 rounds, and maybe even another 20,000 rounds.

I once tried a Kel-Tec P3AT. It had about as much firepower as the 642, was $100 cheaper, and was half the size and weight. It was easier to shoot and more accurate. It was not, however, even in the same league as far as reliability. I would shoot about 30-40 shots and start to get failure-to-extracts (I call these "nail in the coffin" failures, since if you ever had the misfortune of getting one when it counted, it'd likely be fatal). It's also telling that many P3AT owners have to tinker and "fluff and buff" to get their guns to work well enough to carry.

In fairness to the P3AT, it's almost impossible to get a super-small pistol to work as well as a small revolver. Reliability almost always suffers when the barrel gets to 3" or less in an autoloader, especially when fancy new polymers must be used to cut down the weight. Between the subtle flexing of the (small) frame, the various (short) recoil springs, and (short) magazine spring, the extractor spring, and the shooter's hand itself, there's a ton of variables to account for.

This is just my take on it - If you need to carry your gun in a pocket, get a snubnose lightweight revolver and call it a day.

Tech: Top 5 Overlooked GameCube Games, Part 1

The Nintendo GameCube never got much love during its lifetime. Maybe it was the handle protruding from the back, the proprietary mini-DVD format, or the perceived kiddiness of the console, but it never caught fire and it performed even worse than the N64.

In the following series, I'm going to highlight some of the best GC games that were, for whatever reason, not the hits they deserved to be. You won't see GC classics like Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, or Super Smash Bros., but you will see some underrated and lesser-known GC games.

First up is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. This is one of those classic RPGs many accused the GC of lacking. If you're looking solely for FF-style cinematics and pouty-faced, androgynous male protagonists, then yes, you'll be disappointed; if you want an RPG that has a fun combat system, a good story, and memorable characters, Paper Mario fits the bill.

Intelligent Systems, an internal Nintendo team, did a bang-up job with this one. About 30-40 hours of gameplay await you as Mario and company battle through dozens of neat, cel-shaded environments. The dialogue is better than you'd expect, though there's zero voice acting.

Sports: No more win-by-defaults

The #2 Florida Gators finally looked like it when they played tonight in the BCS title game. For the first time this season, everything came together - the offense put up 41 points, the defense held the #1 team in the country to under 100 yards for the game, and even Chris Hetland made two field goals from 40+ yards.

I'm not an athlete, so I can only imagine the dedication it takes to practice week in and week out, and to hit the gym or the track in order to get strong enough to play in a game like this. Special props go to Chris Leak, the most-maligned championship-winning record-breaking QB in Florida football history.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Food: The Default

One of the largest sports bar & grill chains in Florida is the Ale House. Due to the scarcity of decent, low-cost dining options in Gainesville, it's also what my friends and I call "the default." They have nightly specials, some good, some not-so-good (the two-for-one wings are great, as well as the $9.99 prime rib), but the food is always decent.

On most Fridays and weekends there's a big crowd waiting outside to get a table, which can sometimes be frustrating. Thankfully, there's a Barnes & Noble and a Target within walking distance, so you can distract yourself with shiny things before sitting down to get your grub.

Unlike many sports restaurants nowadays, the Ale House generally shys away from using a humongous projector or big screen as a central focus. There are TVs everywhere, of course, so it's impossible to be stuck without something to watch. They even squeeze in a pool table and some (crappy) video games, at least in the Gainesville one.

Rating: 2/4

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Tech: The crappiest TV on the planet

What kind of TV did $70 get you four years ago? An Apex 20" color television. I figured that since all the TVs nowadays are being made overseas anyway, I might as well spend as little as is humanly possible. This thing has followed me from the dorm through three different apartments.

This TV doesn't even have stereo speakers - and the only inputs are antenna/coax and composite. The picture quality, while passable in a dilapidated-doctor's-office-waiting-room-TV kinda way, is not gonna wow your friends or even your grandmother. Colors are often too saturated in certain areas, and the picture is noticeably distorted whenever you're looking at anything resembling a rectangle. It ain't the most svelte piece of technology, either, so it'll stick out like a sore thumb in virtually any decor.

Of course, all of this means that the TV is virtually disposable at this point. If it blew up tomorrow, not a tear would be shed. Strange thing, though - in an age where HD plasmas can go kaput and LCDs can suffer splashes of dead pixels, the TV soldiers on.

News: I'm not making this up

Yes, Cindy Sheehan, who has of course become an embarrassment to the Democrats and to war protesters in general, is going to Cuba. I'm not sure what's next - what is she going to do, pose for a picture with the ailing Fidel Castro?

The problem is, of course, that the suspects in Gitmo have little connection to Iraq (and frankly, only a tenuous connection at best with the policies of President Bush). Guess what? If Al Gore got elected in 2000, those detainees would still be there.

Back in WWII, the U.S. detained entire communities of Japanese people for even flimsier reasons. No modern day Commander-in-Chief of either major party would have failed to round up people and send them to be interrogated - did Cindy Sheehan sleep in on 9/11?.

I can't wait till she visits North Korea. :P

Saturday, January 06, 2007

School: "Levin High"

I realize I've been posting about law school without actually talking much about the school itself. The structure is a warren of concrete and brick in an architectural style called "brutalism," a name that definitely evokes the sharp, perpendicular lines and massive faces of concrete that frame the school.

Outside the area is fairly nice - lots of trees and grass to give some shade and levity to the school. We are near Frat Row, so it's not like we're totally detached from the main University, but sometimes it feels that way.

In my law school, like many law schools that divide first-year students by section, there is a definite high school atmosphere - we take the same classes with the same 100 or so people, and we are stuck at school all day. Most of us eat lunch on campus, too. So trying to get to the Reitz Union to have lunch with some old engineering buddies can be hard. But we all manage, I suppose.

Guns: My Local Range

There was once a gun dealer named Harry Beckwith, and he ran both a gun store and an adjacent range. Somewhere down the line, he sold the range (eventually he sold the store, too, but that's another tale). The range changed hands a few times, until it finally rested in the hands of a guy named Jeff and his ragtag band.

These are gun guys. They don't mind shooting the old stuff, but they enjoy the new combat tupperware, too. They give no-BS advice about personal defense, yet they have some hilarious discussions about guns and shooting.

It's easily the best range in Gainesville. While the per-session fees are high, the yearly membership of $235 is quite fair - you get unlimited range time, a free monthly gun rental, a free monthly ultrasonic cleaning, and finally, some free emergency gunsmithing, if need be.

Definitely worth stopping by.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Miscellany: Musings on Gainesville Traffic

Getting out of a college town the week before Christmas is a chore. Getting back in the day before classes start is even worse. Getting anywhere when a football game ends is nigh-impossible.

In Gainesville, as elsewhere, there are such things as "onlooker delays" (AKA rubbernecking). My mom and I have once witnessed a three-mile stretch of crawling traffic on I-75 caused by, not a car accident, not road debris, but a homeless guy walking along the side of the highway.

I also cringe whenever I have to park at the movie theatre plaza. What genius decided to build a 16 screen megaplex with a dozen adjoining restaurants/shops and then decided to surround it with a parking lot smaller than my driveway (I'm only half-kidding)? Too many cars in too tight a space equals a bunch of fender-benders, near-misses, and half an hour just to get out of the lot when your movie finishes.

School: Book Shortage

Those darn Section 2 overachievers. All the book bundles for my law school section are sold out at Wilbert's, and both Wilbert's and the on-campus law school book store have scant few books remaining.

I have "Civil Procedure" in a couple hours. Thankfully, I was able to snag that book. Lear never posted a first-day assignment, so I'm at a loss as to what to do. Oh well.

My "Appellate Advocacy" class is also today. Taught by my "Legal Research & Writing" professor last semester, Professor Jackson. I'm looking forward to that one - our first case for discussion deals with whether the 14th Amendment covers gay adoption.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Movies: Quick reviews from my Houston, Texas vacation

Houston is a fine place to live and work, but honestly, it's not such an exciting place to visit. Maybe I'm spoiled after living in South Florida all my life, but it just seems like it's a struggle finding something to do every time I go over to visit my relatives in Houston. I ended up watching three movies currently in theatres...

Eragon - An adaptation of a popular young adult fantasy novel, it's one part "Lord of the Rings" and one part "Dragonheart," except instead of cool Sean Connery as the dragon we get listless Rachel Weisz. Mostly hammy acting and a mediocre-to-awful plot are mitigated briefly by a neat final battle against a flying smoke monster. 5/10

Night at the Museum - A "stuff comes to life" comedy in the proud tradition of "Mannequin" and "The Indian in the Cupboard." Your tolerance for this movie probably depends on how much you like Ben Stiller and his antics. It's better than I expected, but it still has a slightly mashed-together feel, as if all the editors decided to smoke cigars and go to Australia before finishing the movie. 6/10

Curse of the Golden Flowers - Yet another Chinese historical drama with some kung-fu thrown in, from the same guy that brought you "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat really chew the scenery, and the production design is suitably sumptuous, but the movie ultimately feels stupid and shallow. 5/10

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Movies: Rocky Balboa

I'm an unabashed "Rocky" fan. Many decry the movie, complaining that it beat "Network" and "Taxi Driver" for the Oscar for Best Picture. I disagree - I like all three movies, but of the three, only "Rocky" continues to inspire audiences, and only "Rocky" has submerged itself into the popular consciousness.

I approached the final sequel, "Rocky Balboa," with the trepidation of a diehard fan. While Rocky II, III, and IV were uneven but mostly entertaining, Rocky V had a mediocre story and atrocious acting. Sly is now 60 years old, as well - not the formula for a winning film.

I'm glad to say the latest "Rocky" is good, and a fitting end to the series. There's a healthy amount of nostalgia, but Stallone, who writes and directs, manages to build up the characters enough to maintain the movie's momentum going into the final fight.

The fight itself is a bit of a disappointment, if only because Sly cheats here (you'll see what I mean - let's just say Balboa is aided in the fight by a peculiar circumstance), but ultimately, the film feels more honest and realistic than pretty much any of the Rocky movies since the original.


The Loudest Sound

I was watching some sports with my Dad in the den when something very unexpected happened. An object in my pocket fell out and clattered on the floor.

It was my Smith & Wesson Model 642 .38 caliber revolver (expect another post about this gun in the future). The tricky thing is, of course, is that up until then, my family wasn't even aware I owned guns.

They were surprised, to be sure, and a little freaked out, but thankfully, they seemed to take it better than I expected. I didn't get chewed out or yelled at, and everything turned out okay. My family still seems to be unreasonably afraid of firearms, but I'm hoping time and circumstance will smoothen that out.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tech: Trials and Travails of a Gaming Laptop

I've owned two different laptops so far (both have been my primary computer during these crazy college years). I chose both with an eye towards gaming capability, as I do enjoy the occasional PC game. What I've learned over the years, though, is that buying a gaming-focused laptop is just a recipe for disappointment.

First and most obviously, even the best, heaviest laptops lag behind desktops in terms of video card and CPU power. Second, laptops are expensive - you can literally buy two desktops of equivalent power for the price of one laptop (and if you build your own, you can get even better power for the money). Finally, and most painfully, the problem of heat from extended sessions eventually kills most gaming laptops...

Take my current laptop. I've played through "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" (a good 30 hours of 3D lightsaber RPG goodness), countless Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat sessions, Civilization 4, Half-Life 2, etc. I was literally gaming like crazy for about six months - but now, whenever I fire up something that stresses the card, the thing shuts down - I suspect something is wrong with the 3D card. The laptop, apart from 3D gaming, works fine - but my next laptop will be a thin and light.

(Back in the great state of Florida, so posting will be regular once again.)