Thursday, May 31, 2007

Guns: The Pistol Grip Shotgun stock

I think we all get bit by the "Iwannacoolgun" virus from time to time. Sometimes, as Tam mentions, it leads to adopting aesthetics over effectiveness. In my recent shotgun shopping stint, I've run across quite a few examples of this type of foolishness in the form of the pistol grip pump shotgun.

The pistol grip variant has got to be one of the most enduring guises of the pump shotgun in modern movies and television. Directors like them because they look more threatening than the standard shotgun stock, and because actors tend to shoot from the hip, allowing more of the performer's face to be seen.

Truthfully, pistol grips are much shorter than a regular stock, which is nice. But a shotgun isn't exactly designed for portability; it's designed for firepower. The plain old stock on Grandpa's Winchester Model 1897 may not be very sexy, but it's great for putting a lot of little lead balls into a target in a rapid fashion, which is why we engage in the whole exercise in the first place. A pistol grip pump can be shot well, but the learning curve is always sharper, and someone will invariably be able to shoot the shoulder-stocked version better and faster than the pistol grip, no matter the skill level.

Note that some standard shoulder stocks also have pistol grips incorporated in them - these are fine and dandy. This post is about the pistol grip shotguns that have no shoulder stock at all. I don't like to say X gun is better than Y gun, but to be honest, whatever shotgun I end up purchasing will not have a pistol grip.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Music: Keeping Score

The principal draw of HDTV is the much-improved picture quality, but lately the HD program I've been viewing the most (partially because of the dearth of HD channels here) is the PBS program "Keeping Score." It features the San Francisco Symphony (along with famous conductor Michael Tilson Thomas) performing various classical works along with commentary about the music.

It's a strange choice for a digital program at first glance, but it eventually makes sense - the improved resolution and widescreen format make it possible to view the entire orchestra performing at one time in a panoramic fashion, which is pretty neat. Even the glint of the house lights off the performers' clarinets and violins is dazzling. Michael Tilson Thomas (man, what a cool name) is also an energetic and interesting conductor to watch, and you can almost feel the musical cues through his body language, a skill most conductors try to cultivate.

So far they've done pieces like Beethoven's "Eroica" and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." The universe of classical music can feel a bit overwhelming at times, so I guess it's good they're sticking to basics for now. I'd like to see some mroe experimental stuff if they continue on in later seasons - maybe period instruments or something of the sort.

Tech: DoS attacks

Most people reading this are probably familiar with "denial of service" attacks, where a computer or server is intentionally attacked in order to deny service to its users. In my case, it's my favorite web forum, The High Road, that is the target. THR's been down for many days now, and it's only through the hard work and money of stalwart server operators that there's even hope that it's going to be back up again at all.

In the most common attack, a server is flooded with external commuication. The very nature of the Internet means that these packets can literally come from anywhere (so-called "distributed" DoS attacks, which can consist of thousands of compromised computers being controlled by one attacker). Massive bandwidth either forces users to access the server at a crawl, or crash the system completely.

You may ask why servers just can't ignore traffic like this. The answers are complicated, and some of the reasons that DoS attacks work have to do with the nature of the Internet itself. Most extraordinary are attacks against the Internet itself - the famous DNS backbone attacks. These backbones are so important that the U.S. government is prepared to bomb attacking countries in real life to prevent the Internet from going down.

All of this is fascinating, of course, but I can't help but think some maladjusted runt is behind the attacks on THR. I hope THR comes back eventually - for now, we have to settle for The Firing Line.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Food: Obscure (for me) fast food day

There are two competing aspects of human nature IMHO - the base, primal, animal instinct and the noble, evolved, and perhaps even divine sensibility. For example, humans typically fear the unknown. This is manifested in some of the myriad miseries we inflict upon each other - especially racism and genocide. But there is a small part of the human psyche that also demands to explore the unknown. I'm not sure why this is so, but it's this drive that compels explorers and scientists to push the bounds of human existence.

I went out to try Sonic's BLT and tropical mango iced tea combo the other day. I had never actually eaten at a Sonic before, and, determined to try out something new, I thought I'd give it a shot. The first difficulty was in actually finding a Sonic - while there's literally three McDonald's within 5 minutes of my place, the nearest Sonic was on the other side of Gainesville.

I got there and pulled in. I was dumbfounded as to what to do next. It turns out you actually push a button and order, and then a waitress (rollerskates and all) comes out to bring you your food. The BLT was pretty awful, the fries were ultra-salty, and the mango iced tea was too cloyingly sweet and artificial to be satisfying. Okay, I never need to go to a Sonic again.

Next up was Guthrie's, a chicken finger place I had seen before. The restaurant was clean but empty. I ordered a "plate" - three or four chicken fingers, fries, Texas toast, cole slaw, and dipping sauce. The chicken fingers, fries, and toast were passable, though I've had better. The cole slaw was awful - it had the consistency, taste, and color of vomit, so it wasn't very appetizing. Okay, Guthrie's is off my radar.

Moral of the story? Exploration is a dangerous business, whether you're Magellan or a hungry student.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Miscellany: So that's why it's so catchy

It's no secret the U.S. Army spends a lot of time and energy on recruiting - from magazine ads to multiplayer video games, watching how our country sells the life of a soldier is an interesting pastime. The most visible weapon in the arsenal, so to speak, is the TV commercial.

The recent "Army Strong" campaign has been plastered over the airwaves for awhile now, and this article is a neat look behind-the-scenes. The Army spares no expense here - even the score for the commercial is the work of famed composer Mark Isham (his filmography is incredibly extensive). I can't think of a better way to convince people to join than getting the guy who scored "Miracle" and "Invincible":

Guns: The Great Debate - Pump shotgun edition

It's a natural tendency, I suppose, for humans to play favorites. Life is full of decisions between mostly-equal brands - Ford and Chevy, Coke and Pepsi, etc. All too often, adopting one product means excluding other products from your life, just to avoid duplication - who needs both Crest and Colgate toothpastes in the bathroom?

This same behavior occurs quite often with firearms. While there are many with enlightened attitudes, there's always a small but vocal minority that insists they have happened upon The One True Sword, or that Brand X has some fatal flaw that makes Brand Y the better choice (which draws the ire of the people who bought Brand X). You can see this in gun magazines, gun stores, the Web...

Today's post concerns the various types of pump shotgun available. Winchester and Ithaca used to be big players, but nowadays the competition is basically between the Mossberg 500/590 and the Remington 870. In my view, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, but they both will do a fine job for most anything you'll ever need a shotgun for.

The Remington 870 series has a pretty beefy, yet heavy steel receiver. It uses a push-button safety behind the trigger guard that works great if you have a pistol-grip stock. It costs more than the Mossberg models and often your options are circumscribed if you opt for the cheaper Express models (you'll need to replace the foreend and Dremel out the dimples on the mag tube in order to put on a sidesaddle and extension, respectively).

The Mossberg 500 has a noticeably lighter aluminum receiver, which to be fair will probably not last quite as long as the 870, all other things being equal. The 500's safety is mounted on the upper rear of the receiver, making it more intuitive to flick on and off than the 870 with a standard stock but more difficult to use with a pistol grip stock. The 500 tends to be cheaper than the 870 series. Even many of the budget Mossbergs come with factory magazine extensions, which is nice if you're planning to use one out-of-the-box for home defense.

Both models have proven track records (the 870 rides in police cruisers across the nation, while the Mossberg 590 is the only pump shotgun currently in use by the U.S. armed forces). Both models have plenty of accessories and parts. I'd take either in a heartbeat if the lives of my loved ones were on the line. So why all the commotion? I suppose people just need something to argue about sometimes...

News: Yeah, this usually happens

Another reminder of the kinds of freedoms that American soldiers, past and present, died to protect:

"Venezuela's most-watched television station -- and outlet for the political opposition -- went off the air after the government refused to renew its broadcast license.

Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which has been broadcasting for 53 years, was replaced by a state-run station -- TVes -- on Monday. The new station's logo began running immediately after RCTV went off the air.

Leading up to the deadline, police on Sunday used water cannons and what appeared to be tear gas to break up thousands of demonstrators protesting the government's decision to close the country's most-watched television station."

It's definitely a pattern. Left or right-leaning radical takes control of the government, promising reform. People are burned by said "reforms," and those who speak up are jailed or silenced. The free exchange of information is critical to keeping a republic out of the hands of political opportunists (a redundancy), and state-run newspapers and TV stations aren't exactly the best place to look for independent voices.

The new television station replacing RCTV is public and not private, and immediately began hawking its new children's program, aimed at teaching socialist values to kids. I find this pretty common, too (like a Palestinian Mickey Mouse teaching kids to hate Israel). Contrast this with American children's television shows, which almost never even mention politics. It seems when your values aren't strong enough to withstand criticism, you resort to indoctrination.

Memorial Day (sorta)

Memorial Day commemorates those U.S. soldiers who died honorably in war. Traditionally, it fell on May 30th - but for decades now, it basically falls on whatever day it's most convenient to have a three-day weekend on. I think this cheapens and degrades our memorial efforts, but it does nothing to weaken the legacy of the men and women of the U.S. military.

There have been times when the motives for United States military action have been less than pure, and (many, many) times when the casus belli for war has been suspect, but through it all, the world has seen the character of the best of America through her soldiers. True, the armed forces aren't composed of perfect people, but of human beings, and sometimes people behave in reprehensible ways. But if you asked a person on the street to look hard at the average session of Congress and the average platoon patrolling Iraq, it makes you really wonder who should be in charge of the country ("Come on, you apes - you wanna live forever?").

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Books: Blankets

Very few works of fiction actually earn the title of "graphic novel." It's hard enough to draw meaningful artwork, and it's twice as hard to marry that artwork with a story that is sophisticated enough to withstand literary criticism. Most graphic novels are little more than glorified comic books. "Blankets," an "illustrated novel" by Craig Thompson, is at the very least more than that.

Thompson tells a highly personal story of first love and apostasy from Christianity. The protagonist falls deeply in love, muses about the state of existence, and questions the rigid doctrines held by some of his friends and family. To say any more would spoil some heartwrenching scenes, many of which, as the cover suggests, play out against the frigid winter cold.

Some may take issue with the observations and opinions of the author. Unlike some other works(*cough*His Dark Materials trilogy*cough*), Thompson never gets preachy and never slams those who believe or don't believe. If more people in the world adhered to that kind of honest dialogue, humanity would probably be better off.

Miscellany: A Mosquito Curtain

Our back porch faces a pretty sizable strip of undeveloped land, overrun with trees. It makes for a pretty view, but it also means that every summer, a swarm of mosquitoes and other bugs make their home out there. Since we have to cross the porch in order to get to our laundry room and back, the biting insects can make for some unpleasant laundry days.

Enter Mosquito Curtains, an alternative to expensive (and permanent) screening installations. You order the curtain (basically a big sheet of screening material), staple gun some velcro strips up, attach some marine snaps at the sides to secure it in the wind, and voila! - instant mosquito protection. My Dad and I handled the installation with a screwdriver, hammer, and staple gun, and it took about an hour - pretty simple.

Now, the curtain position isn't perfect - there are a couple small "holes" where there's space between the edge of the curtain and the wall. But mosquitoes are stupid fliers and it looks like the curtain's effective enough. The real test will be later on into the summer - last year the sheer volume of insects that swarmed was reminiscent of a horror movie.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Guns: When Two is Greater than Three...

I'm in the market for a .22 pistol, and I was dismayed to learn that Ruger no longer makes its Mark II series of handguns - they've been replaced by the Mark III series. What's the difference, you ask?

The MK III has several new features - a 1911-style magazine release behind the trigger, a loaded chamber indicator, an internal locking system, and a magazine "safety." Besides the magazine release, these "features" serve as an interesting reminder of the current political climate.

A loaded chamber indicator is perhaps the stupidest thing ever to be put on a handgun. There's an easy way to tell if a pistol is loaded - pull the slide back and see for yourself. These kinds of devices tend to make people handle guns less safely, not more safely - what if that fancy loaded chamber flag fails to raise itself when a round is in the chamber? The MK III's indicator lever in particular is big and ugly, and it spoils the clean lines that the MK II had on the left side of the receiver.

The internal lock is another solution to a problem that doesn't exist. They're getting more and more common in new, American-made firearms (all new production S&W revolvers still have them), but I can't see many situations where they'd do much good compared to a simple cable lock you can get for free. In a defensive firearm, there have been (rare) instances where such locks engaged on their own - not a comforting thought if you need your gun to defend yourself. At the very least, they add mechanical complexity where none should be present.

Finally, the magazine disconnnect - it's a system that (supposedly) prevents the gun from firing if the magazine is removed (the Browning Hi-Power is one famous example of this system). There's a lot of controversy over this feature - some people are okay with a magazine safety, others don't like them. It'd be nice if Ruger at least gave us the option, as Smith & Wesson do with their polymer M&P series. I also don't think that a magazine disconnect should be a substitute for proper safety practices.

All these changes make the MK III less attractive in my eyes. I know why Ruger makes these business decisions (anti-gun legislation and frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers), but I don't agree with them and I think they'll get buried once someone catches on to the hole in the market being created here. Predictably, Ruger MK II handguns are getting harder and harder to find - people buy them and hold onto them, because they know there's a good chance that it'll never be produced again.

Movies: School of Rock

For one of our summer vacations, my family and I went on a road trip through Canada, hitting Niagara Falls, Toronto, Quebec, and Montreal all in one weeklong trip. It was a great time, but admittedly, there was quite a bit of time spent on the road, with nothing to do except watch DVDs through the neat in-car DVD system. One of the movies we watched was "School of Rock" (AKA L'Ecole du Rock - those crazy Québécois people).

You either like Jack Black (and Tenacious D) or you don't like him, but I tend to admire the absurd tendency to rock out at inopportune moments. "School of Rock" is one of those movies that won't win any awards and that probably won't even make an impact on the popular consciousness, but you can tell everyone involved is having fun.

I do take issue with some of the film's premise. I believe you can teach a lot of the 5th grade curriculum using music (music is intimately related to mathematics, and the technology and history of rock music could occupy entire courses). Of course, that would take some of the exuberance out of the movie.

Most impressive, perhaps, is the quality of the young musicians exhibited in the film. I can't believe the lead guitarist is only 11 years old - pretty amazing talent for someone with literally decades and decades of life to live. Here's the rather uplifting finale:

Music: A Jerry Goldsmith tribute

I watched quite a bit of "Star Trek" over break, and if there's one thing that's consistently good in all the Star Trek TV series and movies, it's the music. Even when the stories go south (like when "Voyager" brought in Borg boobs to boost ratings), there's always the uplifting and adventurous scores from Jerry Goldsmith to accompany the material.

Never shy about "manipulating" the audience's emotions, Goldsmith understood that the only way such utopian ideas could work on mainstream TV would be to make people comprehend the meaning with their gut. Besides "Star Trek," Jerry Goldsmith wrote the scores for countless movies and shows, including "Patton," "Papillon," "The Omen" ... the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, Jerry Goldsmith died in 2004. Strangely enough, the latest "Star Trek" series didn't use his score in the opening, and was canceled after just its fourth season. Coincidence? Perhaps not...

Here's some of my favorite Jerry Goldsmith scores:

Star Trek: First Contact (set to the "Star Trek: Enterprise" credits)


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Food: Negra Modelo

I've been accused of being a beer snob, but that's not really true. I'm just not a fan of the pale or light lager, and that tends to make up the majority of the beer market these days, American and otherwise. For every time I get to have Guinness on draft (which can be quite refreshing), there's ten times I see only Budweiser or Miller Lite on draft. I don't mind the occasional pilsner after a long game of tennis or after some nasty yardwork, but I can't understand how a beer expressly made to be consumed after sweaty work can be consumed at a meal where you aren't tired at all.

The most egregious offender is Corona. There's nothing quite like the conceit of shipping the beer in clear bottles and then marketing lime juice as a way to cover up the resulting skunkiness of the aroma. Yeah, it might look good in ads, but lime juice is for guacamole, not beer. Mexican restaurants always seem to have Corona ready.

So, that's why for this year's Cinco de Mayo at a Tex-Mex joint, I bought some Negra Modelo. A sort of historical oddity, it's a Munich style dark lager that comes from Mexico. Predictably, it comes from the same company that makes Coronoa. I'm not crazy about this beer, and it's a far cry from Old Rasputin or Smuttynose, but beggars can't be choosers. ;-)

TV: Muppets make everything better

While there are some who have called "Kokomo" the Beach Boy's worst song, there's something charming about it when it's being performed by voice-actors for characters made out of foam rubber and fleece. Midway through the song, there's even a changed song lyric ("That dreamy look in your eye/Underneath a tropical island sky") which seems like an improvement over the original ("That dreamy look in your eye/Gives me a tropical contact high"). This music video used to play incessantly during Nickelodeon's daytime lineup, so as a kid, it stuck in my head.

Of course, lots of famous living human beings have performed with the Muppets, too. Take Elton John's middling performance of "Crocodile Rock" here - the tempo of this particular performance is a bit slow for the song, IMHO, but there's nothing like actual crocodiles to glam up the whole affair:

Finally, there's the class of music videos where the Muppets themselves are sought out. Weezer, meet Kermit:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Miscellany: PS3 L337 Edition - Shut UP! So HOT!

This video is dumb, but funny by G4 standards.

Guns: The Wally World Experience

I've written in the past about buying and selling guns online, but in point of fact, the nearest place to purchase a gun will likely be your neighborhood "Big Box" or sporting goods store. Though in recent years Wal-Mart has discontinued selling firearms in some regions (e.g. places where people don't hunt), they still carry rifles and shotguns in quite a few stores. Here's what it's like, in my experience, to buy guns from Wal-Mart.

The typical Wal-Mart shopping experience goes like this - you go to the sporting goods section and either pick a firearm from the gun case or special order one from the catalog (if you special order a gun, you must pay half of the cost on layaway and wait for the gun to come in). They pull out the ole 4473 and after you fill it out (sometimes they're very picky about how), they run the background check. If you are cleared, depending on state law, you are escorted out of the store by a manager and off you go.

Now, the first couple of times I bought a gun from Wally World, it went smoothly. The third time, the clerk noticed Wal-Mart has an obscure, asinine corporate policy of requiring a week-long waiting period for Palm Beach County residents (they literally called my cell phone and asked me to bring back the gun). I brought the gun back (didn't want anyone to lost their job over an honest mistake) and politely explained that state firearms law had changed, but they said it was Wal-Mart's decision. Since then, of course, I haven't bought any more guns from them. I've since heard they've changed the policy, but too little, too late.

If you absolutely must buy a home defense gun from Wal-Mart, they do have some choices available. They have lots of shotguns for sale, and many of the Mossberg models have factory extended tube magazines (alternately, you could buy a plain-jane 870 and attach a mag extension and new fore-end yourself, but I'm lazy). They also stock pistol-caliber and .30-30 lever-action carbines that would be handy for defense. I don't recommend a bolt-action rifle for home defense, mostly because they're much more expensive and slower to cycle than a pump shotgun, but it's certainly better than nothing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tech: Doing it the Hard Way

My primary computer is a laptop whose video card has been fried from one-too-many sessions of "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic." The laptop itself still works fine, except that now, about ten to fifteen minutes into playing a game, it overheats and shuts off. Having a decent amount of free time over the summer semester (we get essentially four days off in a row), I wanted to play "World of Warcraft," but my video card wouldn't cooperate. Bollocks.

So I dug out my old laptop. I mothballed it about a year ago, since the screen hinge is broken and the laptop itself is kinda grungy. It's still plenty powerful enough for WoW - a desktop Pentium 4, 512 MB RAM, Mobility Radeon 9000. So, I dust it off and boot up - and the backlight is gone. Bollocks.

After finagling with the on-off switch in the hinge, I manage to get the backlight back - whew. I pop in the WoW install CD and wait for the AutoPlay splash screen. Nothing happens. Looks like the CD-ROM is busted. Bollocks.

At this point, I could open up the computer to check the cable, and also double-check the IDE settings of the drive. But, there's a good chance the drive itself is buggered, which means all that effort would be in vain anyway. So, I'm now downloading all 3 gigabytes of the program, to be followed by several more gigs of patches and installations. All before actually playing the game.

I hope this laptop's 3D card still works. :-P

Miscellany: From a fighter to a freighter

A modern bicycle is one of the most beautifully useful and simple feats of mechanical engineering. Both in terms of the amount of energy expended and the ratio of weight carried to weight of the device, a bicycle is the best of the human-powered vehicles. If you measured the energy efficiency of a typical bike like a car engine, it'd be like getting hundreds of miles to the gallon.

Alas, while cyclocommuting, a number of practical problems arise. This morning, for example, the ride to school was conducted in nauseating smoke from the brushfires that are still being battled up near the Florida-Georgia border. More vexing, though, is the amount of sweat one can generate from a 20-minute, 3 mile ride. I think I may have found a solution...

I used to wear my backpack while riding, but lately I've been using a steel pannier set to hold my books and bike locks. With the backpack on, sweat naturally starts to accumulate on your back (ick). With your bags tucked in the panniers, however, you naturally have the wind to wick away most of the sweat that forms. I have a pair of panniers, taking the form of large steel frame baskets, mounted to the rear of the bike.

The drawback, of course, is that the panniers are heavy and spoil the balance of the bike. They also interfere with my pedaling slightly (I used to pedal with the balls of my feet). In sci-fi starship terms, the bike's changed from a fighter to a freighter.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Politics: The Middle East - sick man of Earth?

This article offers a somewhat sobering perspective on the Middle East. It's hardly an original sentiment - commentators have remarked for years that the Middle East is lagging behind even other parts of the Third World in terms of development, especially given the enormous amounts of oil and human capital that would seem ripe for exploitation.

I would argue that Sub-Saharan Africa is the least-developed place in the world, of course. The oldest enemies of humanity - war, disease, and famine - are definitely prevalent in that troubled region. But while political instability, epidemics, and infrastructure problems are all present to some degree in the Middle East, they don't fully explain why the cradle of civilization, and where the Ottoman Empire thrived some four to five hundred years ago, has become so unproductive.

Is this simply the natural outcome of a competitive global market? Will there always be "winners" and "losers" in the game of geopolitics? After watching a bit of "Star Trek" over the weekend, it'd be nice if such a utopia could exist, but thousands of years of human experience seem to dictate otherwise.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

School: A sterling example of the profession

Criminal defense attorneys, especially public defenders, often get dealt some pretty lousy hands. Unlike other areas of law (M&A, IP, etc.) the clients may not be very sophisticated and they may even be horrible people. But you must defend them nonetheless. It's no secret that the criminal justice system here in the U.S. is close to the breaking point, so it can be difficult to fight for the best outcome for your client. A post on THR yields this helpful explanation from such an attorney (quote is left unedited):

It's an adversial system, I'm in a fight everyday with the other side that wants to use violence against my people and I want to win. It's what I do, it's what the Supreme Courts of my state and the U.S. expect me to do, get in a fight. This isn't Japan where everyone dog piles the defendant until he confesses. If you were accused of a crime, would you want someone fighting for you or telling you how right the police are?

The people I fight for may not be very educated, or have a lick of common sense, shower daily, live like you or me, have flashy jobs, or practice solid dental hygenie, and you wouldn't want to have them over for dinner. However, fighting for them is what I am sworn to do.

Lot of times the fight is lopsided (really, really lopsided) and I have no chance. I still go out when the bell rings and I smile when they knock my teeth down my throat and spit the teeth back at them. I fight for them as fighting for them is fighting for the Bill of Rights and battling against the Leviathan. I will fight for my guys without apology until they carry me out horizontal, briefcase and cell phone in hand, and in my death throes I will bolt up and cry out, "objection!"

Guns: The easiest way to win a gunfight

...Is to avoid getting in one in the first place.

Chris Rock once joked how there would be less crime if bullets cost $10,000 each, but in a way, they already do. Any time you start shooting, even if you are justifiably defending yourself or another innocent party, there's going to be a mess of legal consequences. Besides the need to avoid a criminal conviction, you may also be sued by the families of the attackers. Though such a suit would likely be quickly dismissed, any time you get served, it's kind of touch-and-go until you get someone experienced with torts to advise you.

That's why I think this story, though less flashy and less laudable than the brave intervention of Mark Wilson to stop a deranged spree killer, is a good illustration of how a responsible wielder of a concealed weapon could behave. By all means, if you are in danger of losing your life or your limbs, go ahead and come out firing. But if you can get away from imminent danger and keep the assailants where they are, that is helpful as well. In this case, tragically, the partner (of the person who was halted by the CCW) elected to murder innocent bank tellers for no real reason, but in most cases, the CCW's actions would have resulted in cornered bank robbers and no deaths.

(standard disclaimer - IANAL, merely a law student)

Movies: Me, Myself, & Irene

Farrelly Brothers movies tend to follow the same formula - crazy guy chases girl, crazy stuff happens (usually involving toilet humor), and eventually the guy gets the girl. It's worked on stuff like "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary," and "Me, Myself, & Irene" pretty much plays it by the book. In this case, the freak is Charlie, a nice guy with a Mr. Hyde-like persona named Hank that lurks inside him, waiting to emerge. With anyone else but Jim Carrey, the movie would probably be unwatchable, but nobody does demented quite like Ace Ventura himself.

Rating: 6/10

The main thing I remember from the movie, though, isn't Jim Carrey's multiple personality shtick, but his trio of "sons," led by the irascible Anthony Anderson. In the film, the sons are the offspring of a black man and Charlie's ex-wife, but the sons are left for Charlie to raise. The boys are super-smart and love Charlie very much, but, having grown up on a steady diet of stand-up comedians like Richard Pryor, they throw around foul language with no hesitation.

This behavior reminds me of my undergrad days. There's nothing quite like throwing in some f-bombs while devising a memory checking algorithm or analyzing an integrated circuit. When you're young, I guess, the mix of the intellectual with the profane comes naturally. I rein in my mouth nowadays, but you can check out some of these clips from the movie that illustrate what I mean (warning - foul language and a chicken put where the sun don't shine):

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Miscellany: Distressed clothing is the dumbest thing in the world (rant)

Right now I'm wearing a pair of "distressed" shorts my Mom got me as a gift (well, she bought them because they were extremely cheap, too). "Distressed" clothing refers to clothing that has been deliberately made to look old or worn, and in this case, the shorts don't have any hem at the bottom of the pant leg.

Anybody who's ever sewed a pair of shorts can probably predict what's happening now. The damn pant legs are unraveling, with ever-longer threads of fabric coming off the bottom of the hem-less shorts. This is unsurprising, since a hem is designed to prevent garments from unraveling in the first place. Ulgh.

I could go on - even sillier examples of this fashion exist. Sometimes manufacturers will rip holes into material and shoddily stitch them up, or purposely bleach or dye a material a different color from the rest of the clothing. And people actually pay extra for this.

Now, I can understand how it started. A pair of really worn-in jeans, for example, has a certain cool factor for the original owner of the jeans. Or even a pair purchased at a thrift shop - you never know where those clothes actually come from or what they've been through, so there's some personality there, I guess. But to buy a pair of brand spanking-new "distressed" jeans from a shelf full of dozens of similarly "distressed" jeans makes absolutely no sense at all, and certainly isn't doing much in the service of rugged individuality.

Tech: Starcraft II Announced

I still remember giddily holding the original "Starcraft" PC game in my hands after waiting for it all day in middle school. My Mom had managed to snag a copy for me on her way home from work. My cousin Gilbert and I were completely, hopelessly addicted to it for weeks to come. What I liked most about the game was the epic, space-opera story and atmosphere - compared to the emotionless automatons that in most RTS games pass for units, each of SC's units had a unique strategic function and a singular identity. The subsequent "Brood War" expansion pack also ensured that the Starcraft universe had a permanent place on my hard drive.

To be fair, "Starcraft II" doesn't look much different from its predecessor. I don't really blame Blizzard for that - why mess with the balance of a game that people are still playing a decade later? There's no tacked on 4th race, there's no new resource besides the original trio (minerals, vespene, and supply), and even most of the original game's units seem to be returning:

Friday, May 18, 2007

School: Laziness on Both Sides

Today, though I could've read for my summer classes, I decided to watch the "extended DVD cuts" of all three "Lord of the Rings" movies back-to-back-to-back. There's nothing like nearly 12 hours of man-boy Elijah Wood tearing up the screen - I'm not even that big of a Tolkien fan, but I have to admire all-out filmmaking when I see it, especially with such summer disappointments as "Spider-Man 3" fresh in my memory. And for those of you who don't get a kick out of seeing Sean "Rudy" Astin kicking some orcish butt, I feel sorry for you. :-)

My professors are even worse, though. Law school grades are typically based on a single, three to four hour-long final exam. That's it. No papers, reports, homework, or projects - it's usually just a single exam consisting of a bunch of essay questions. And yet it takes more than four weeks to receive our grades (we don't get them until May 30th). While I'm sure each exam takes a good half-hour or so to grade, each professor is only doing maybe 100 papers - and what the heck else are they doing with no classes in session?

Professor Collier's exam was also a source of a huge amount of controversy. Several parts of the exam were identical to a previous exam given three years ago. Of course, since Professor Collier doesn't make old exams available like other professors, some students knew about the previous exam (by tracking it down) while others did not (like me - I only look at old exams when the professor puts 'em up). Given how mind-bogglingly easy it is to make up new Constitutional Law hypos (you can just look at current events or even current undecided Supreme Court cases), I find this lack of effort...disturbing.

Books: Mermaid Saga

While most of the manga series written by Rumiko Takahashi have large casts of characters, "Mermaid Saga" focuses on the travels of only two people, Yuta and Mana. They have both eaten the flesh of a mermaid and gained immortality, and they wander Japan in search of ... well ... nothing. Unlike immortality fiction like "Highlander," there is no real ultimate goal to speak of here, lending the series a sort of dreamlike continuity. Aside from the very first story introducing Yuta and Mana, "A Mermaid Never Smiles," the various episodes in the comics can be read in any order.

Of course, as they trek across the country, they encounter various twisted monsters and characters, all related somehow to mermaids and their supernatural effects. Takahashi gets a lot of mileage out of the premise, but it's clear that the idea isn't strong enough to sustain a multi-volume epic like InuYasha. The stories are pretty formulaic - Yuta and Mana come upon something weird, they investigate, Bad Stuff happens, and a resolution is reached (seldom a happy one).

Thankfully, some somber artwork and writing make "Mermaid Saga" compelling, with little of the slapstick humor or wordplay that props up Takahashi's other books. The tone here is deathly serious, with good amounts of horror and gore. The small flashes of a budding romance between Yuta and Mana are subtle, but they make sense when the overall atmosphere of the books are taken into account. If you want to see how many scrapes two nearly-unkillable people with eternal youth can get into, "Mermaid Saga" is worth a look.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Guns: "Sights you can see"

The greatest advice on what is needed in a handgun that will be carried for self-defense was given by Jeff Cooper - "100% reliability, sights you can see, a trigger you can manage." I've blogged several times about how important it is for a firearm to be reliable - any gun that is not or cannot be made to function properly should not be trusted to work when the chips are down. I guess it's time for me to move on to the second requirement, "sights you can see."

While sometimes in action shooting competitions you see elaborate optical sights mounted on handguns, these setups are almost never practical in terms of carrying a gun in the real world (raising some questions as to what those competitions are supposed to simulate, but that's another post). 99.9% of defensive handguns thus wear simple iron sights, sometimes with tritium inserts. The typical sight picture looks something like this (six o'clock hold pictured):

Others have tried playing with the basic Partridge-type sight, with varying degrees of success. Steyr came out with some interesting pyramidal-type sights for their pistols, and some people even sell peep sights for handguns, but the good old square notches are definitely here to stay.

Everyone's eyesight and perception will be subtly different. What may seem a tiny front notch to some might be just right for others. One constant, though, is that the sights must contrast with the surface you are shooting, otherwise it is easy to lose them. Today I shot a gentleman's $1,000 Kimber target 1911 - the thing was accurate as all hell, but finding its black target notch, aligning said notch with the black front sight, all in the center of a black target, was a chore. I shot my basic CZ P-01 much better than his gun for this reason. I've consistently found simple three-dot configurations (or a solid color rear sight contrasted with another solid color front sight) to be ideal.

Shooting instructors often advise people to "focus on the front sight," which seems easy enough. Unfortunately, there is a continuum (at least for me) between perfect sight picture and perfect shooting speed. How fast you can shoot thus primarily depends on how fast you can reacquire sight picture after a shot. Dry-firing exercises can help this reflex to a degree, but it takes a ton of range time before you can learn the exact, split-second interval where you can start squeezing the trigger again after the gun has come back from its muzzle flip.

Different ranges will require different sight pictures - while the topic of "point shooting" (shooting without a sight picture) is somewhat controversial in the shooting world, when an attacker is literally close enough to touch with your arms, you simply may not have enough time to get a sight picture.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

TV: "The Price is Right" - A Retrospective

How do you sum up the longest-running game show in history? "The Price is Right" is easily my favorite game show, because of the sheer audacity of its premise. In essence, it's an hour-long commercial featuring literally dozens of mini-advertisements per episode for the prizes. The only way to make such an exercise is entertaining is by attaching loads of silly pricing games to the products and getting people psyched about playing for them. When you have a twenty year-old guy jumping up and down because he won a dishwasher, that's when you've struck something very primal in the human condition:

I remember watching this show at various times in my life, whether it was during summer vacation at my Grandma's house, or during days off in middle school, or in the dorms between classes in college. Through it all, there's been a remarkable consistency - same kitschy sets, same corny theme music, same endless cavalcade of "Barker's Beauties." Here's some of the funnier bloopers from the show's run:

TPIR has four key demographics. Housewives and househusbands, kids, college students, and retirees. That's why you always see such a broad spectrum of prizes - from new Ford Mustangs to pinball machines to furniture sets. Of course, the big prizes (read: cars) are given out sparingly, always two per episode nowadays, one in each half of the show. Another great game is "Plinko," where contestants can win up to $50,000. Key words - "up to":

Bob Barker is retiring from the show (35 years of shows at 5 times a week means Barker has given away over 700 million dollars worth of prizes over the years, and that's not even adjusted for inflation) and to celebrate, CBS is running a "Million Dollar Spectacular" and a Bob Barker retrospective, as well they should. I'm not sure how they'll find a new host, but one thing's for sure - they'll never replace Bob Barker.

And of course, no post about TPIR or Bob would be complete without the "Happy Gilmore" fight:

News: Some GOP Newspeak

It's weird how often you can perceive echoes of "1984" in political "debates." Here's some choice examples of doublethink from the GOP candidates: McCain supporting making Bush's tax cuts permanent even though he voted against them, Giuliani touting "a woman's right to choose" but insisting that abortions be minimized, and Romney declaring that he supports gun owners' rights under the Second Amendment even though he signed into law Massachusetts' "Assault Weapons" ban.

I'm not sure much needs to be said here. The three GOP frontrunners, much like the Democratic frontrunners (Clinton, Obama) will basically say anything necessary to get elected. I'm not sure what's scarier - that these people can flip on the issues, or that they might actually believe what they say. Let's go candidate by candidate...

McCain supposedly voted against the tax cuts since they weren't accompanied by spending cuts. This is the same McCain, mind you, that supports campaign finance regulation. Here's a hint - we can cut the size of the quite a bit if we abolish the FEC and all the accompanying restrictions on political speech.

Giuliani is in even more hot water. If it's so important for a woman to be able to have an abortion (Giuliani has even argued for public funding of abortions in the past), why would we even try to minimize abortions? The other GOP hopefuls pounded Rudy on this issue, trying to get the ever-important pro-lifers on their side, and Rudy looked like a fish out of water.

Romney committed perhaps the most egregious example of doublethink of them all. In his mind, this is what he was doing when he signed Massachusetts' ban: "These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people." (quote from the Mitt Romney encyclopedia).

First of all, the Second Amendment does not protect the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of "recreation." Second, there's very little distinction one can make between a weapon that is useful for self-defense and one that is supposedly made for "killing people." And finally, if you see a GLOCK with a 15-round mag as an "instrument of destruction," how is that same GLOCK with a 10-round mag any less destructive?

This election's just looking more and more awful...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Miscellany: The pinnacles of geekdom

I really like the above poster, mostly because of its obtuseness (check it out along with others, here). You not only have to be familiar with those motivational posters, but you also have to be a Star Trek fan and know what the Arkham Horror boardgame is all about. Bonus points if you can ID the episode of TOS that the pic is from, and bonus-bonus points if you can outline your team's strategy for actually winning Arkham Horror.

Here's my attempt at a geeky combination. Not as good, but it's a start. It'd be awesome if Michael Dorn could appear on those infomercials instead of Vanessa Williams and P. Diddy.

Tech: The ephemeral HDTV broadcasts

I bought an RCA amplified indoor antenna in hopes of improving my (HD)TV reception. While cable is fine, it's pretty hard to switch back to awful old standard-def when sexy HDTV picture quality is being broadcast over the airwaves for free. Mindful that much of the stuff on network TV isn't very compelling for me ("American Idol" and "Dancing With The Stars" come immediately to mind), I hooked the sucker up.

Bollocks. The darn thing doesn't improve reception at all - in fact, I was having better luck with an old pair of rabbit ears I picked up from the bottom of my closet. I can't believe this piece of junk cost $60. Obviously, a quick return is in order.

Thankfully, it ain't my HDTV. I'd hate to have to continue to supply this sucker with high-def content - it seems the more detailed the picture, the greater the month-to-month impact on your wallet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Guns: Familiarity Breeds Competence

The following video is very instructive, but perhaps not in the way that the producers intended:

Compare the cute-but-ditsy girl in the above video with Adam Tyc, a member of CZ's IPSC team:

The girl sees the gun as a foreign device, something that takes a conscious effort to be safely handled and controlled. Her group at 6 meters is huge - the shotgun-like pattern of bulletholes she puts on target might be more visible to the audience, but it betrays a dearth of practice and defames a fantastic gun. I'm no IPSC champion, but it's not hard for me (nor anyone else with a week or so of training) to punch out a better group on paper, especially in slow fire. If my CZ-75 shot groups like the girl's, I'd send it back to the factory. :-P

Now, that's not to discourage beginners - everyone's initial targets will look like the girl's target. But these are the first steps to a goal, not the end, and to put you and your shooting on DVD in such sorry condition is surely not productive to anyone hoping to learn. Too often people will ventilate a silhouette on the range and go home thinking they have mastered pistolcraft, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Tyc's firearm, on the other hand, is an extension of his body. He is in full control of his tool, whether it's shooting in tight spaces or running down a hallway with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. While there are many different types of shooting, one hallmark of all competent shooters is an intimate familiarity with the gun itself. Your firearm, whether it's a Camp Perry target-grade AR, a $20,000 over/under shotgun, or a custom-built CCW handgun, should not be a stranger to you. There's a good chance any champion shooter can recall how the sight picture on his or her gun looks from memory, or can trace out the curve of the gun's trigger or grip. When they bring up their firearm to their eyes, they know what to expect. To sum up: before you can display marksmanship worthy of being committed to video, you must know your gun, inside and out.

There are other criticisms I have with the first video, but, as I understand it, DVDs like that are made for viewers living in those countries where ordinary people are not able to own and shoot firearms. I sympathize with those living under such oppressive laws, but like most skills, shooting a gun is not something you can really learn from a video.

Movies: The Host

A quaint little movie theater in Old Town area of Key West is the Tropic Cinema. Tucked into a little street off of Duval, the theater isn't likely to be found in any tourist guide (hell, it wasn't even listed in the Yellow Pages), but seeing a movie there was a fun way to spend an evening.

That movie was "The Host," a Korean flick directed by Bong Joon-ho. I've heard it described as "Godzilla" meets "Little Miss Sunshine," which is actually pretty spot-on. Combining the inter-generational dys-fun-ctional family with a horrific monster might not sound like it makes for a good movie, but the film finds a nice mix between drama, horror, and comedy (the scene where some of the family members mourn is side-splitting if you have a macabe sense of humor).

The movie has some problems. Like most of these films, the middle portion sags, and some of the characters are little more than exposition banks that exist for awhile before being killed. The special effects almost always look like a cheap TV show (to be fair, the budget was about 1/25th of "Spider-Man 3'), so there are seldom any "wow" moments. Finally, the overall plot isn't really compelling enough to sustain repeated viewings.

There's some strange anti-American-ness woven into the film, which is curious given how much the U.S. has put in to safeguard and support South Korea. Then again, it's hard to take a movie where a champion archer faces off against a formaldehyde-mutated monster too seriously.

Rating: 7/10

Food: Places to Eat in Key West

Our first bite to eat in Key West was Louie's Backyard, an upscale place on the south side near the "Southernmost Point" in the U.S. The food was not worth the price, but it was still serviceable. While my Bahamian conch chowder didn't really live up to the hype, I found my Dad's chicken salad and my Mom's mozarella caprese to be workable. The drinks there seemed better - Mom's mojito smelled of mint even before you drank it. Since the view was excellent (literally right by the ocean), I'm willing to give the place the benefit of the doubt...

(Preliminary) Rating: 2/4 stars

El Meson de Pepe, located on Mallory Square, is a decent but uninspiring Cuban joint. While the walls are festooned with neat artwork depicting Havana, the food is by-the-numbers. The sangria we ordered was tasteless, but the ropa vieja and lechon asados were pretty good, at least when paired with the mojo and spicy dressings that were brought to the table.

(Preliminary) Rating: 2/4 stars

There are a metric ton of seafood restaurants in Key West, but the Half Shell Raw Bar, where we went to for lunch, seemed like it was a cut above the rest. The raw oysters were pleasingly fresh and served with Tabasco, horseradish, and lemon, and the fish and shrimp were all better than average. It was pretty dead there, as were all the places on our trip (it's the off season), but during the wintertime at night I bet the place gets pretty crowded.

(Preliminary) Rating: 3/4 stars

Miscellany: Things to do in Key West

For Mother's Day, my family and I took a little mini-vacation to Key West. Strangely enough, even though we've lived in Florida for decades, we've never been down that far. My experience with the Keys had only extended as far as John Pennekamp Park. So, packed with supplies and ready for adventures, we drove down...

One excellent spot to take advantage of is Bahia Honda Park. This is about an hour north of Key West itself, but the beach is very calm and the water itself is nice and cool. There's a nature trail, kayaking, snorkeling, and some other activities, but the main draw is the miles and miles of relatively serene sandy beach. I've been to nicer beaches (The beaches in the USVI's St. John are incredible), and the proximity to the highway was slightly annoying, but all in all, it's easy to enjoy a day there.

In Key West itself, we found a small city that was basically ours to walk through. In the off-season, the crowds are much-dispersed, making our stay there very pleasant. The Mel Fisher Marine Heritage museum was pretty neat, especially the displays of various artifacts of daily life in 1622. Another notable museum is the restored Custom House, featuring art telling the tale of Key West. They also had an Impressionist sculpture display that was fun to play with.

As far as recreation, there are two main activities in Key West - drinking and fishing. There are a few beaches on the south part of the island, but they pale in comparison with the less-developed keys. Charter fishing and snorkeling is plentiful, as are the local bars on famous Duval Street. For the right kind of person, Key West is indeed very close to paradise.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Movies: Children of Men

For some reason, the minds of British fiction writers are obsessed with making the UK into a police state. Whether it's "1984," "V for Vendetta," or "Children of Men," Merry Olde England is always protrayed in these dystopian fantasies as a repressive regime. Strange that more American stuff doesn't take the same tack - guess that whole tradition of resisting authority (with the guns to back it up) makes such scenarios implausible.

Anyway, "Children of Men" is set in the near future, when some unexplained disaster has occurred - women are no longer fertile, and no human babies have been born for 18 years. The world is in shambles, and for many, all hope seems lost. The UK, seemingly the last place where law and order prevail (to a degree), struggles to stop anyone from entering the country.

To say any more would be to spoil a pretty good movie, methinks. There's some nefariously implausible circumstances here, like in all speculative fiction, as well as some one-note characters and telegraphed plot twists. But the execution of the movie (from Alfonso Cuarón, director of a lot of pretty good movies) is spot-on, and Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey do a good job here, as well. Better than quite a few movies I've seen recently.

Rating: 8/10

Food: John G's

Some people, when they hear "John G," immediately think of the mysterious killer in the film "Memento." For many people from South Florida, however, "John G's" is the name of a fabulous restaurant located on the coast near the now-destroyed Lake Worth pier.

Breakfast is the main attraction here - especially the yummy cinnamon-nut French toast. All the breakfasts come with a "fruit cup" (essentially a fruit salad made with all sorts of fairly fresh stuff) or a small cup of fresh juice. The grits are thick as paste, just the way I like 'em, and when you combine their rye bread, their excellent hash browns, and some lettuce and onion (all of this stuff comes with the meal, mind you), you have an impromptu sandwich.

I've never eaten lunch or dinner there, so I can't comment on that. But I do know that during the winter months, when the snowbirds come down, the line to get in stretches around the block. This is the kind of place that delivers the same good quality food at good prices, year in and year out.

3/4 stars

Politics: Mitt Romney's Awful Truth

One of the big problems with declaring your candidacy for president nearly a couple years in advance of the actual election is the number of opportunities to stick your foot in your mouth. While it seems everyone running is racing to distance themselves from President Bush's policy on the Iraq war (sometimes it seems Bush is the only one defending Bush these days), there are other issues that candidates can trip themselves on - guns, abortion, immigration...

Sometimes these things come out of left field, however. Here's Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate, on polygamy:

"I have a great-great grandfather," he said. "They were trying to build a generation out there in the desert, and so he took additional wives, as he was told to. And I must admit I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy." (emphasis added)

Now, I'm not saying everybody should go out and marry thirty wives, but surely there must be more awful things than polygamy. Child molestation? School shootings? The Holocaust?

Romney is sort of like Bob Dole mixed with Bill Clinton's telegenes, but statements like that always make me wonder. Plus, the fact that he's wishy-washy on gun rights doesn't help, either.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Miscellany: The "Ugly Betty" Effect and the "Shallow Hal" counterexample

I guess the first time I noticed the phenomenon was in the forgettable late '90s teen flick "She's All That." For some bizarre reason, Rachel Leigh Cook was cast in the role of the "unattractive" Laney Boggs in the film, which was supposed to be a sorta-remake of "Pygmalion." The problem was that Ms. Cook was a looker compared to her female antagonist, at least to my teenage male eyes.

Then the next instance was with the American version of the show "Ugly Betty," and its entire premise. Supposedly, by frumping up America Ferrera with braces and glasses, she's suddenly "ugly" (or at least not fashionable). Again, it doesn't really work...I suppose in order to work as an actress nowadays in Hollywood, you have to look attractive by default, so even when a TV show or movie tries to showcase an "ugly" person (seriously or in jest) they rarely succeed. Combine that with my feeling that how a person thinks, speaks, and acts is more important than how they look, and you have a recipe for malaise.

One exception I've found to the above rule was in the movie "Shallow Hal." Though I ultimately disliked the movie (as did Gwyneth "named her kid Apple" Paltrow and Jack Black), I appreciate that the Farrelly brothers didn't cop out and pair Black's character with an attractive Paltrow at the end. Instead, he gets Paltrow playing a several hundred pound woman in a fat suit. Meh - close enough.

Music: A Bee Gees tribute

One of my Mom's favorite groups is the Bee Gees, and for good reason - the "Brothers Gibb" have withstood the test of time. In the pop pantheon, where having a few hits can make someone a star, the Bee Gees have written and recorded a whole albumful of memorable songs, including the perenially covered "How Deep is Your Love." Of course, her taste for the Bee Gees rubbed off on me...

It's telling that in this week's "American Idol" shows, the four young contestants' performances paled in comparison to a 60 year-old Barry Gibb, whose penetrating falsetto was still poignant even with the pall of age. To think you can find talent like Gibb every year in a canned annual competition voted on by the public is ludicrous at best and insulting at worst.

Of course, the Bee Gees themselves were always strongest as a group, with brothers' rendering pop ballads and disco tunes with harmonic aplomb:

Guns: CCW printing, two ways

Most people who carry a concealed weapon worry about keeping it concealed. "Printing" - when your gun shows through your clothing somehow - is normally an evil to be avoided. There's no set formula for avoiding printing; every body, piece of clothing, and gun will interact differently, and what works for a day at the office may be ill-suited for hiking and cycling. (Note that in some states, you can carry openly, but I don't recommend this unless you have a retention holster and, more importantly, retention training.)

It's possible, though, to take such practices overboard. Since law-abiding people carrying guns are still (unfortunately) uncommon, especially in some parts of the country, there's little reason to be worried that everybody's noticing your gun. The vast majority of people are either too distracted or too self-absorbed to be looking at the slight bulge right behind your hip.

That's not to say, of course, that bragging about said gun is the right idea, either. The open discussion by some gun owners (and gun bloggers :-P) may or may not ease the populace into greater comfort with carrying a gun. In general, however, it's best to keep your mouth shut about your defense tools. I'm hoping this fact changes, but until it does, "concealed" still means concealed, mentally and physically.

In the same vein, "CCW printing" also refers to the unsavory practices of some bigoted anti-gun newspapers that publish lists of people who hold concealed weapons permits, often including their addresses. This sort of thing, unfortunately, is not isolated and gun bloggers from all over have covered these unfortunate incidents. I'm not sure what's next - a list of people who make over $200,000? A list of people with children under five? It's bad enough a government permit is necessary to lawfully carry in most places - do we have to compound that by alienating and potentially endangering permit-holders' lives?

There's a limit to freedom of information, especially when the people being listed have done nothing to deserve being singled out and conveniently categorized for any criminal wanting a list of targets. Thankfully, Florida law prevents people from obtaining CCW information without a court order. Some other states are not as lucky, and keeping slimy anit-gun newspapers from putting CCW permit holders in jeopardy is an ongoing battle.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Links: Skunkabilly's World of Mud and Guts and Barbecue Sauce

I'm a terrible photographer. It's part science and part art, but I haven't really mastered either the technical or aesthetic aspects of the craft. Thankfully, there are people on the Web who have, and one of those people is Skunkabilly (Xanga site here).

Admittedly, I first came to his website because of his fascination (bordering on obsession) with his Berettas and all things tactical. If it had carbon fiber, was made to help man survive the elements, or involved the use of gratuitous acronyms, Skunk was there. When Hurricane Katrina hit, though, his photos and missions down to help the area were interesting and inspiring.

He's journeyed to the Far East, the American West, and all sorts of places in-between. As far as I know, he's still a banjo player, too. Godspeed, Skunk...Godspeed.

Miscellany: The elements

There's a subtropical storm off the coast of Florida right now - it's kind of a freak of nature, since the actual Atlantic hurricane season won't start for a few weeks. While it really isn't affecting our area directly, it's conspiring with the brush fires up north (which actually flared up right around the time of my final spring semester exams) to send a pall of smoke and haze over the state, along with storm surge that's damaging some area beaches.

I woke up today with the intention of putting in a full day's worth of studying for the law review competition. The grey miasma outside is just the icing on the cake of my mood, I suppose. Oh well - time to put on some Cranberries (in honor of the recent Northern Ireland accords) and get to work.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tech: The Churn-out Effect

Like the old "Twilight Zone" episode, I tend to believe that people are alike all over. Sometimes human nature manifests itself in the same way across very disparate fields...

Reality TV shows are a good example of the "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" mentality. While the first examples ("Survivor") might have been considered daring, the parade of reality competitions from literally every TV network on the air ("Bullrun," "Who Wants to be a Superhero?," etc.) and the fact that the viewership hasn't rebelled means that TV networks will keep churning them out for as long as possible. Rather than spend the money for the production of two or three hour-long dramas or half a dozen sitcoms, networks can and will always opt for the reality show as a much cheaper, easier, and proven alternative.

But this phenomenon can also be seen in the spread of MMORPGs, which basically take as much time to produce as a typical computer RPG but pull in ever-increasing revenues because players pay a monthly fee to access the servers. Anyone who's ever written a computer program knows that cutting and pasting code is the fastest way to complete an application, and, if the MMORPG network code is already there, why not create yet another profitable game out of it?

That's what makes me fear the date of May 19th, when software powerhouse Blizzard Entertainment will announce its next game. I'm hoping it will be Starcraft 2, a sequel to my favorite real-time strategy game, but my gut tells me it will be a Starcraft-themed MMORPG. The lure of easy money and easy production is as strong as it has ever been, whether it's pulling on American Idol or Blizzard.

Food: Silver Pond

Hell hath no greater fury than a woman scorned - and in this case, the woman was my Mom. The owner of Silver Pond, a Chinese restaurant that we frequent, had canceled our reservations for a graduation party a week before the graduation. Mom declared she would never set foot in the place again - a Silver Pond-cott, if you will.

There's not many good Chinese restaurants in our area, so while Silver Pond would be considered middling in Hong Kong, it's absolute gold if you're hungry for Cantonese and you're stuck in West Palm Beach. There are other places, but few as consistent as Silver Pond. It's nestled in a cut-rate shopping plaza (the plaza also has a gun shop/indoor range, if you can believe it) in Lauderdale Lakes.

Eventually Mom's will broke (well, she was sort of dragged there by Grandma and Grandpa, too), and we have eaten there since. But to this day, Mom avoids the gaze of the owner, and some of the initial ebullience of Saturday dinner is inevitably lost as we all recall what happened.

The food is pretty good, though various restaurants I've been to in Seattle, Paris, and Toronto clearly eclipse it. I'm sure any good Hong Kong place would demolish it, too. We enjoy the salted shrimp, Cantonese-style lobster, steamed fish, and occasionally the roast duck. I would've given this place a higher rating if not for the slight on my parents, so it's gotta be...

2/4 stars

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Guns: My First AK

Back in the old days, before I started researching, scrimping, and saving before every major gun purchase, I bought firearms carelessly. One of those careless purchases was from a local army surplus store, M&C Surplus. I overpaid nearly $100 for what turned out to be a WASR-10 Romanian-made AK. This is a converted single-stack magazine model; it's been crudely modified to accept standard double-stack AK mags. Many examples of this AK clone exhibit signs of the poor workmanship, whether it be from the original builders or the monkeys at Century. Canted sight towers, canted gas blocks, worn-out finishes, iffy magazine loading...

Like nearly all AKs, though, the WASR was essentially jam-proof. There's nothing that ensures reliability like a generous gas pulse, an oversize spring, and a huge piston. The only real weakness of the gun in terms of operation was its trigger assembly. I started noticing trigger slap (the trigger is forcefully reset by the bolt as the gun cycles, "slapping" your index finger) whenever I shot the gun, which definitely made it less comfortable. This slap eventually became so vexing that I sold the gun some time later.

The accuracy was up to usual AK standards, which is to say, not that great. I believe the sights had an optimistic maximum range of 600 meters. That's not to say a good shooter with a good AK couldn't hit practical targets at that range, but the AK, like other 20th century carbines, is really designed for shooting at a range up to and including 200 yards. 7.62x39, which is probably the cheapest rifle round available nowadays, has a lower muzzle velocity and does tend to exhibit a more rainbow-like trajectory than its main rival, 5.56mm.

Nowadays, were I to purchase another AK, it would be a higher quality variant, like a VEPR or an Arsenal AK. More likely, though, I'd go for an AR-15. There are a lot of good reasons for this, but one reason removed from any mechanical considerations is that since most AK stuff (the rifles themselves, the ammo, the parts, the mags, etc.) is imported from other countries, it would be easy for a future President to halt importation of said AK stuff into the U.S. This may be mildly paranoid, but considering our prospects for 2008, I'm not holding my breath.

TV: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

In the beginning of any TV sitcom, the writers are laying the groundwork for the series. Sometimes they start with large casts to ensure they'll have something to write about. Unfortunately, if this later proves to be unwieldy, characters can end up getting axed. Later on in a sitcom, as original stories become harder and harder to come up with, a new character can provide a useful spark for the writers...but again, only if one of the existing characters is booted off.

This can happen in many ways, but sometimes the writers find it's easiest to not have to explain it within the continuity of the show. Instead of some elaborate farewell episode for a minor character, characters can simply just drop out of the show - out of sight, out of mind. The perennial example is "Chuck Cunningham," the oldest son of the family in "Happy Days" who mysteriously disappeared for no reason.

"Family Matters" and "Step by Step," two Miller-Boyett productions, both suffer from this malady.

"Step by Step," a cloyingly self-conscious Brady Bunch ripoff, was a notable case. The original premise was heavily weighted on having all the children (six of them) play an equal part in the mayhem. So when things got hairy and the ratings dropped, it made sense for the series to take drastic measures when it switched to CBS. The youngest brother, Brendan Lambert, disappeared from the show for no reason and all focus was moved to cute child star Emily Mae Young (the Welch's juice girl).

"Family Matters" was an even more stunning case. Judy Winslow, played by Jaimee Foxworth, was essentially written out of the show after the second season. She disappeared from the credits and eventually was never spoken of again. Strangely enough, Jaimee Foxworth herself seems to have gone on to do some porno - including "My Baby Got Back 29" (can't say I've ever seen it). Other major characters, like Aunt Rachel and Grandma, were also shoved aside to make room for more Urkel.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Music: Tess Don't Tell

It took me a while to realize that "pop music" isn't much of a genre. There are a 1,001 different varieties of pop; while it is sometimes counterproductive to pigeonhole bands into one box or another, it makes sense as a way of getting a handle on things. The song I'm talking about today is "Tess Don't Tell." It's firmly within the "Dream Pop" subgenre, and it comes from the pop band Ivy.

The anchor of the group has always been Dominique Durand's soft, Parisian voice, but the influence of Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger are obvious from the rhythmic pop bridges and catchy melodies. "Tess Don't Tell" comes from Ivy's most recent album, "In the Clear," a treasure-trove of songs destined to find their way into sappy TV drama montages ("Grey's Anatomy" is probably using an Ivy song as I write this).

This is the kind of music to turn on when the day is over and you're ruminating about things that were and might have been. I'm not sure if it's important pop, or even good pop, but it's definitely catchy pop.

Tess Don't Tell (Live) by Ivy

If you don't have RealPlayer installed on your computer, take a gander instead at the trippy music video for another song off the same album, "Thinking About You."

News: The enemy of my enemy is my...friend?

While I freely admit to tending libertarian, I don't mind reading opinions in the editorial pages from all parts of the political map. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and if you aren't willing to listen to other people, you may miss some of them.

Except for one column. Maureen Dowd's.

Ever since John Ross' fisk of her book "Are Men Necessary?" and the controversy over various "Dowdifications" in her columns, I've made a point of avoiding her stuff in any newspaper I come across.

Except today.

Dowd was talking about the recent victory of the "conservative" Sarkozy in the French presidential election. Dowd attended the last rally of Socialist candidate Segolene Royal before the election results were announced. As I read the column, I thought to myself, "Anyone Maureen doesn't agree with is probably someone I do agree with."

And it turned out to be the case. Although I don't think Sarkozy is the perfect candidate (from some accounts, he's power-hungry and imperious), it's refreshing to see someone denounce the insipid 35-hour work week and various other socialist "reforms" that have made France the sick man of Europe for the past decade or so.

Links: Blogrollin'

I just remembered how to add links at the sidebar on the right of this page (a simple HTML link dropped in the middle of an arcane template). I've added some of the blogs I visit daily; all of them are definitely worth your time. Many of them are the sort of "personal" blogs that I think the Web is perfect for - I find that the big, multi-user news blogs do a great job of keeping up with current events, but are less idiosyncratic and therefore less interesting.

All the blogs I visit are written by people who shoot and who believe strongly in the inherent human right to self-defense. I have other hobbies (cycling, RPGs & boardgames, etc.) but none of them are as fun to talk or blog about as shooting. Whether you're blasting clays at five-stand, hitting water jugs with a 60-year old Mosin, talking about metallurgy, or simply thumbing through the latest gun rag for all the pretty pictures, the fodder for a blog seems almost limitless.