Friday, December 31, 2010

Movies: The Fighter

For decades, boxing has been a fertile ground for filmmakers, even as its real-life popularity has declined relative to other sports. "Rocky," "Raging Bull," "Million Dollar Baby" - people (and movie critics) just can't get enough of the sweet science. 2010's Oscar bait is "The Fighter," directed by David O. Russell:

It's a slightly fictionalized take on the true story of "Irish" Micky Ward, a boxer from working-class Lowell, Massachusetts. After a series of disappointing losses, Ward finds himself at a turning point in his career. Will he ever be a contender? Or will his crack addict older brother and overbearing mother/manager pull him down?

"The Fighter" doesn't bother to distance itself from the genre's tropes (heck, there's even a training montage), but what it lacks in originality, it (mostly) makes up for in execution. Christian Bale, who plays Ward's older brother, is a surefire Supporting Actor nominee once again, thanks to his ability to lose weight and adopt accents. I also liked Amy Adams, who was trying her darnedest to play against type by slinking around in her underwear and dropping f-bombs in every sentence.

The only actor not stretching himself here is Wahlberg, who, like always, brings his trademark scowl and Boston inflection to every scene. Sure, it fits this character, but it's also a little tiring after awhile:

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guns: The Poor Man's .357 Lever-Action - Rossi 92 review

Introduction: Zombies beware!

For some folks, lever-action rifles conjure up classic Westerns like "The Searchers" and "True Grit." For me, though, lever-actions are the quintessential zombie guns. After all, Ben used a Winchester 94 in the original "Night of the Living Dead," and Peter wasted marauding bikers wth a Savage 99 in "Dawn of the Dead." It was this undead nostalgia that prompted me to pick up the relatively inexpensive Rossi Model R92.

The Rossi 92 is a clone/reproduction of the Winchester 1892, a lever-action designed by John Moses Browning as a scaled-down version of the Winchester 1886. The Rossis have gone through various importers through the years - my Rossi 92, and all new Rossi 92s as of December 2010, are manufactured in Brazil by Taurus and imported by Braztech.

There are other options for those seeking a lever-action rifle chambered in .357 Magnum. The Marlin 1894C is popular, and the best choice for those who wish to mount a scope over the receiver. There's the Henry Big Boy, a tube-loading design that's considerably heavier than the Marlin and Rossi actions. You can also still buy an actual Winchester-branded '92; these are made in Miroku, Japan. If you're on a budget, though, the Rossi is about $150 cheaper (and easier to find at the moment) than the 1894C, and much cheaper than the Miroku '92s (which run close to the $1000 mark). Like most things, though, you get what you pay for...

First Impressions: Rough around the edges

I found the Rossi 92 to be a quick-handling little rifle, especially since I opted for the 16" trapper-style carbine; when held in one hand, the barrel doesn't even touch your shoetops, let alone the floor. The point of balance is right at the receiver, too, which is just about ideal for a long arm. The lever-action also makes the gun thin and slim compared to big, bulky semiautomatic carbines like the AR and AK.

Despite this handiness, I noticed several areas where the Taurus/Rossi factory cut corners on the gun. Unlike the real-deal Winchesters, the Rossis have plain flat fore-ends and crude-looking barrel bands. Unsurprisingly, mystery hardwood is used throughout. On the positive side, the finish on the barrel and receiver is serviceable, and I found the adjustable semi-buckhorn sights to be clear and simple to use.

The Action: More hitches than a trailer park

I had heard from anecdotal reports that some Rossi actions were smoother than others. I must have gotten one of the rough ones, because my example had noticeable hitching, especially near the end of the down-stroke (when the next cartridge is lifted into position to be fed into the chamber). A rough action is not only less fun to shoot, it detracts from reliability and messes up your sight alignment when you cycle in another round.

The Rossi 92s come with the top-mount safety that everybody seems to hate. It isn't the most positive safety I've ever used, but it didn't really bother me, especially since the other controls on the gun worked fine. I thought my rifle's trigger was pretty crisp, and I didn't detect any major ergonomic problems with the hammer or the lever.

Range Report: Isn't this thing chambered in .357 Magnum?

After inspecting and cleaning the rifle, I took the Rossi 92 out and put it through its paces. As an initial observation, the rifle kicks more than you'd expect with .357 loads. The long barrel allows the bullets to develop several hundred feet per second more velocity compared to a handgun, so typical 158 grain loads can reach muzzle velocities of 1700 fps or more (roughly 1000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy).

First, the good news - I found that the Rossi readily fed all manner of .38 Special cartridges, including my own handloads (158 grain LRN, 158 grain LSWC, and 125 grain JHP bullets) as well as Remington 125 grain SJHP. Accuracy wise, I regularly shot 3" groups at 50 yards with my .38 Special handloads (seated, but not in a mechanical rest).

The bad news? The Rossi 92 was very, very picky about feeding .357 Magnum cartridges. In fact, Remington 158 grain SJHP simply would not feed in the gun, even after decreasing COAL with reloading equipment. The round would jam into the top of the chamber when you tried to close the action. Here's an illustration:

Shorter .357s with a more rounded bullet shape seemed to do better (though there was still the odd fail-to-feed). On the right is the Remington 125 grain SJSWC, which fed okay; on the left is the Remington 158 grain load that simply could not be cycled through the gun:

Second Range Report: And there was much rejoicing

Taurus guns have a reputation for inconsistent quality control - one gun might be a complete basket case, while the one right next to it is unfailingly reliable. Wanting to test this theory out, I returned the Rossi 92 at my local gun shop and obtained a replacement. Immediately I could tell that the new gun's action was slicker and tighter - even the shell carrier angle looked different. I headed to the range again with high hopes.

Hallelujah! The second Rossi 92 worked fine with several types of .357 Magnum, including the Remington 158 grainers that were literally impossible to feed in the first one. I only shot about 50 rounds through the second Rossi, so the jury's still out on whether or not it's reliable enough to bet your life on in a fight. For me, it's certainly good enough for low-level cowboy action shooting and range fun.


Can I recommend the Rossi 92? Well, yes and no. After shooting both Rossi 92s, I really can't even believe they were made on the same assembly line, much less that they were identical examples of the same model.

That is, if you get a good Rossi 92, it will probably do everything a lever-action .357 can be expected to do, especially considering the price. If you slick it up and get it tuned by a good gunsmith, it might even work for serious cowboy action competitions and self-defense. If you get a lemon, though, like I did, you'll definitely have to send it back in. In short, pick your poison, pay your money, and have fun popping some zombie brains...

Miscellany: Budget Fountain Pens

I enjoy writing with fountain pens, but, as some have pointed out, they are somewhat of an impractical luxury item. Even a common "starter" fountain pen, like the Lamy Safari, will run you $30. Not everyone can afford that, especially if fountain pens turn out not to be your cup of tea.

Still, there is a certain visceral pleasure to writing with a fountain pen, and, if you enjoy writing longhand, there is no reason not to at least try one. Here are a couple of sub-$10 fountain pens that are worth a look for those dipping their toes into the ink well...

Pelikan Pelikano Junior review

The Pelikano Junior is a plastic-bodied fountain pen designed for schoolchildren. The pen has a fat barrel and bold colors that are sure to entice kids, and the package even includes a little label so you don't get your pen mixed up with a classmate's.

The Pelikano Junior is a good beginner's pen because it lays down a generous, wet line of ink. This means that it's less sensitive to writing angle than the average fountain pen, and feels more like a rollergel or rollerball. In my testing, I never found the Pelikano Junior to be scratchy or uncomfortable.

There's no getting around the fact that this is a no-frills pen with a plain steel nib. The chunky plastic construction isn't very durable, and the pen has a tendency to roll around since it has no clip. The cap on mine eventually cracked from one too many falls off my desk. Still, the Pelikano Junior's overall smoothness and low price makes it a good option.

Pilot Penmanship review

This pen is also designed for students, albeit those attending middle or high school. The Penmanship is a Japanese pen, and it's unlikely you'll find it in a store here in the U.S. I ordered mine from pen importer JetPens.

As with the Pelikano Junior, the Penmanship's plastic construction and plain nib won't impress anyone. Its saving grace is that it lays a fine line, much thinner than most fountain pens. The pen can get a little scratchy, depending on how long it's sat unused, but it writes remarkably smoothly considering how little ink is being drawn by the nib. This is a great pen for those who like fountain pens, but find them too wet and imprecise compared to a good ballpoint.

Ergonomically, the pen has a tapered barrel and indentations near the nib for your fingers. The screw-on cap has two anti-roll "wings;" it looks a little strange, but it works pretty well. To sum up, for the beginner in search of a fountain pen capable of taking notes in the smallest of margins, the Pilot Penmanship is an excellent choice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Have a great holiday weekend, all...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mulliga's Christmas Spectacular - Songs for the Snowless

Every time December rolls around, things get festive here at Shangrila Towers. This holiday season is no different, and we're rolling out Yuletide posts all the way up to Christmas Day. Today, we'll look at some Christmas music organized around a very particular theme:

One of the downsides to living in South Florida is that it never, ever snows. I know it sounds crazy to wish for snow when many of my fellow gunbloggers up north are being buried in the white stuff, but it doesn't feel very much like Christmas without it. Here are a few songs that express the plight of snowless South Florida:

Mele Kalikimaka

This is that "Hawaiian Christmas" song that played when Chevy Chase was fantasizing in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." As you can imagine, it's very popular down here, since we have our fair share of swaying palm trees and sunshine, even in December.

The quintessential recording of the song was made by Mr. Bing Crosby, but many artists have released their own versions over the years. I'm partial to Ingrid Michaelson's pleasing humor-laced live versions:

Any Beach Boys Christmas song

The Beach Boys released a well-received Christmas album, including the memorable hit "Little Saint Nick." I've found that pretty much anything by the Beach Boys goes well with a frozen margarita and a sea breeze. The combination of Brian Wilson's California falsetto with classic Christmas songs sort of embodies what Floridians go through every winter - the holiday spirit without the snow.

White Christmas

The classic plea for snow, and one of the best holiday tunes ever. Like a lot of Christmas songs, it was actually written by a Jewish man, Irving Berlin. To add to the multiculti confusion, this song is quite popular in Asia. Here's a jazzy version by Korean star Younha(윤하):

Miscellany: Leatherman Blast review

Leatherman has introduced a lot of neat innovations to the multi-tool world (the replaceable wire cutters in the Super Tool 300, the Crunch's ingenious vise grip plier design), but they still make some basic, meat-and-potatoes tools for the budget-minded. One model that's seen a lot of use here at Shangrila Towers is my Dad's Leatherman Blast:

The Blast is a midweight multi-tool, weighing in at 6.9 ounces. It's not quite light enough to carry everyday; on the other hand, it's heavy enough to tackle most jobs. The opening and closing mechanism isn't as slick as a SwissTool (look for a review of my new SwissTool Spirit in the coming months), but overall, the fit and finish is several notches above the nameless Chinese imports that cram the big box shelves nowadays.

The Blast packs a regular clip point blade (420HC steel) and a saw blade (very nice to have, especially if you plan on cutting wood). Both are functional, though you may wish for a tool with a one-handed opening knife after messing with the clunky Leatherman locking system.

On one side of the tool, you have a set of scissors and a file. The scissors are a little spartan, but comfortable enough to use. The file is good; as is typical with Leatherman files, the texturing runs up all the way to the edge.

I like the pliers on the Blast. The narrow head size really comes in handy for the kind of prying and gripping tasks you use a multi-tool for. I haven't used the wire cutters extensively, but they're designed the same way as every other tool.

The Leatherman can opener is a little controversial to some folks. I do like the Victorinox/Wenger design better, but the Leatherman certainly works. Rather than a passel of interchangeable bits, the Blast uses dedicated drivers for all but the eyeglass driver. Check 'em out:

The Blast comes in a basic sheath that can be mounted on a belt via a simple loop. Considering the price point, it's not surprising they skimped on the sheath, an item that most users will want to customize anyway. All in all, this is a good basic multi-tool and a great last-minute gift idea for any mechanically-inclined guy or gal.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mulliga's Christmas Spectacular - Holiday Recipe Roundup

Every time December rolls around, things get festive here at Shangrila Towers. This holiday season is no different, and we're rolling out Yuletide posts all the way up to Christmas Day. Today, we'll look at some of my favorite Christmas and holiday recipes from around the Web - Mulliga-tested, and Mulliga-approved:

Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Topping

I've linked Simply Recipes here before, and one of my favorite recipes from Elise is this marvelous combination of two holiday favorites - sweet potato pie and pecan pie.

Some tips - if you don't care for it or you're pressed for time, you can skip the pecan topping. Additionally, don't be too wedded to Elise's heavy cream measurements or her cooking times - ovens and ingredients vary widely. Just make sure the filling isn't too solid or too watery when you put it in the oven.

Green Beans and Bacon

This is what we cook in lieu of the traditional green bean casserole, and it's so simple it barely needs a recipe. Chop some good bacon into quarter-sized pieces, fry it up in butter/olive oil with garlic and onion, and then add in freshly boiled green beans. Fast, easy, and freaking delicious.

Thumbprint Cookies

I tend to like most Ina Garten recipes. They're usually easy to make, usually involve lots of butter, and usually come out tasting like a million bucks. For these cookies, we nix the coconut and roll them in chopped almonds. My coworkers gobbled them up in about half a day.

Standing Rib Roast

Okay, on second thought, we're not going to give away the secrets of our prime rib - the family's signature recipe. All I'm authorized to say is that it involves healthy amounts of parsley, garlic, kosher salt, and love - Merry Christmas and happy experimenting!

Guns: Okeechobee Shooting Sports

In my experience, an unsupervised public rifle range is about as safe as downtown Fallujah, in that it only takes a handful of jackasses to turn the place into a bullet-ridden war zone. In contrast, the safest outdoor range I've ever been to is Okeechobee Shooting Sports, tucked away in the rural parts of Okeechobee County.

The drive in is scenic, but long - it takes about an hour to get from Palm Beach County to the range. You'll pass wide, empty stretches of forest and farmland, and there aren't many gas stations in the area, so be sure to fill up when you can. Something to note: the range itself is right next to Thundercross MX Park, so if you're a motocross rider who also likes shooting, this is heaven on Earth.

Okeechobee Shooting Sports is pretty large, with a main pistol and rifle range complex, several smaller gallery ranges where you can shoot stuff like handguns and rimfire carbines at reactive targets, and a full-on five-stand/skeet/trap setup for shotgunners. You can camp there, and I saw at least one RV that appeared to be staying the night.

What makes the range so safe is that they have numerous range safety officers. The RSOs call the range hot and cold, check chambers on all firearms, make sure no one's downrange, and otherwise keep people from doing anything crazy. There's even a rope that they hang across the range entrance to make sure no one wanders in front of the firing line. Overkill, perhaps, but if the alternative is bedlam, I'm willing to deal.

I guess the bottom line is that Okeechobee Shooting Sports was a fun, safe place to shoot, run by nice competent people. If you're in the area, it's well worth your time and money to burn some powder there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mulliga's Christmas Spectacular - Holiday Gifts On A (Really Tight) Budget

Every time December rolls around, things get festive here at Shangrila Towers. This holiday season is no different, and we're rolling out Yuletide posts all the way up to Christmas Day. Today, we'll look at holiday gift ideas that come well under the $5 mark, thanks to the almighty power of your local dollar store:

Snowman Soup in a Christmas Mug

This is one of those can't-miss gifts for your co-workers - after all, who doesn't enjoy sipping a beverage from a novelty mug now and again? Your local dollar store carries a wide variety of mugs - grab as many as you can, stuff 'em with packets of cocoa, marshmallows, Hershey's Kisses, and candy canes, and you have a great informal gift for a cold winter morning.

Obscure Hardcover Books

With the millions of titles available in the modern world, the problem isn't purchasing a book, but figuring out which one to read in the first place. If you need a thrifty gift for the booklover on your list, the dollar store has a rack of hardcover selections - a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Filter through the dreck (trust me, no one wants to read a biography of Harry Reid), find books that look like they might be palatable, and read through them to make sure they're decent. For the price of a single paperback from Borders, you can give someone a half dozen books - odds are, the recipient will like at least one of them.

Super Cheap Toys

Here's a little secret for cash-strapped parents: kids under the age of five can't tell the difference between the $6 action figure you bought at Wally World and the $1 figure you bought from Dollar Tree (not surprising, since they're both made in China). Grab $10 worth of the best toys you can find, put 'em in a box, and watch the kiddies find happiness with army men and paddle balls on Christmas morning.

Mini Survival Kit

If you look around, you can find lots of inexpensive interesting items for the preparedness-minded individual in your life - mini sewing kits, knives, toiletries, food items. Pack a few of them up with an Altoids tin for a great little stocking stuffer. Mega-sentimental-value bonus points if you offer to teach them how to use the items, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tech: HP Mini 210 Netbook Review


I’ve been quite happy with the Acer Aspire One I picked up two years ago. The Aspire One has saved my bacon during law school lectures, airline flights, and road trips; for such a small machine, it packs a lot of utility. Heck, I even managed to write a 40 page patent law paper on it (not recommended, BTW).

The downside of all that constant use is that the Aspire One’s battery life is now down to about an hour when off of AC power. This isn't Acer's fault, it's just physics - all lithium ion cells degrade with time, and I'm sure the constant charge/discharge cycling of daily use doesn't help, either. The Aspire One's battery life is now so meager that I have to lug the AC adapter around with the netbook if I want to take it anywhere.

So, I looked around for a new netbook and settled on the HP Mini 210, mostly because a member of my family works at HP and has access to an employee discount. Even without the discount, you can pick up a Mini 210 for around $325, which is in line with other Intel Atom netbooks at the moment. Is it worth the money?


The HP Mini 210 is a fairly handsome netbook, with noticeably better styling than my old Aspire One. I've seen better (the Mini 210’s got nothing on the 11" Macbook Air ultraportable), but the plastic is decent and resists fingerprints fairly well. If you're a fashionista, you can also pay a little extra and get the top and bottom case panels in various colors.

In terms of size and weight, the Mini 210 is a little larger and 3/4 pound heavier than my old Aspire One, mostly due to the larger 6-cell battery. HP smartly designed the Mini 210's battery; it angles upward, into the hinge area. This means the Mini 210 doesn’t have that awkward looking “foot” that a lot of 6-cell batteries have - the battery fits flush with the bottom of the netbook. Like in many modern laptops, the clamshell screen has no latch mechanism.

Here's an overview of the ports and switches on the HP Mini 210, which on the whole are pretty standard for this class of computer. From left to right, there's a multicard reader, power switch, 2 USB ports, a hole for a security lock, and an Ethernet jack:

On the other side, you can see the power jack, a video out, another USB port, and a multiaudio port.

One interesting plus for the HP Mini 210 - it's quite easy to pop the bottom panel to access the hard drive and RAM for upgrading:


The Mini 210 sports the island-style keyboard that’s all the rage nowadays. The keyboard itself is fairly solid, with less flex than my old Aspire One. It’s nearly full size, too, with plenty of space in-between the letter keys to make typing easier. There are two quirks you should be aware of, however. The first is that you need to chord a separate function key in order to access F1 through F12 and the "Insert" key. Without pressing the function key modifier, the top row of keys manipulate various aspects of the 210, including its screen brightness, volume control, and wireless adapter. The second quirk is that there are no "Page Up" or "Page Down" keys - kind of a bummer if you're used to using those keys to scroll through long web pages.

The touchpad is probably the part of the Mini 210 I like the least. Taking another cue from Apple, it has integrated left and right mouse click buttons - you press down on the corner of the touchpad instead of hitting a separate button. I've always found this to be vague and imprecise compared to dedicated mouse buttons. The touchpad does support some basic multitouch gestures, like two-finger scrolling and two-finger zooming, and it's not bad for what it is.


My Mini 210 has a standard 10.1" 1024x600 glossy LCD screen. As with most netbooks, the available viewing angle is poor-to-moderate - move your head about a foot to any side off of center, and the reflections from the screen surface begin to overwhelm the image. At two feet off-center, it's basically unusable.

You can order the Mini 210 with a higher-res 1,366x768 screen. As explained below, this upgrade is only worthwhile if you opt to put in the optional Broadcom video decoder card. Otherwise, it's not a very compelling upgrade.


My Mini 210 came with an Intel Atom N475 processor clocked at 1.83 GHz, a minor step up from the typical N455 at 1.66 GHz. Compared to my old Aspire One, which is equipped with Intel's first-gen 1.6 GHz Atom processor, the Mini 210 is slightly faster. The difference is very small, but noticeable; for instance, streaming video from a site that used to stutter every ten seconds now runs smoothly.

HP offers the 210 with a Broadcom video accelerator card for viewing 720p content. I've read mixed reports on this upgrade - though it works fine for watching files already on your system, it is hit and miss for many other types of streaming HD content. In any case, it adds considerable cost to what is supposed to be a cheap PC, so I decided to do without.

Battery life was average to good for this size netbook. Under constant use (YouTube videos, blogging, downloading and program execution), the Mini 210 will last about 5-6 hours, with the screen at about 80% brightness and speaker volume at a reasonable level. Tone down your usage, dim the screen, and kill the wireless, and the Mini 210 could last through a flight from New York to Paris.


The Mini 210 is a good example of how far netbooks have come in the past few years. Mind you, there are probably objectively better options for those in search of a netbook, but the HP sits in a comfortable, middle-of-the-pack position. If you can find a good deal on one, it's well worth a look.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mulliga's Christmas Spectacular - Shchedryk

If you don't recognize the title of the song that's the subject of this post, or what it has to do with Christmas, then you will after listening to this lovely performace of "Shchedryk" by the Volontyr Boys and Young Men Choir of Mukachevo:

Penned by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych, "Shchedryk" was not originally intended to be a Christmas carol, despite the fact that Leontovych was a church choirmaster. Of course, Leontovych's music has since come to be known as the "Carol of the Bells" in the English world, thanks to the addition of lyrics celebrating the arrival of Christmas by Peter Wilhousky in 1936.

It's one of my favorite carols, and probably one of the most challenging to sing. Leontovych's skill with polyphony makes a traditional Ukrainian folk song into something very, very special; unfortunately, he was reportedly murdered in 1921 as the Ukrainians (and their artists, composers, and authors) fell under the boot of Soviet Russia. The music lives on, however, even in China:

Guns: How to I reload a revolver

Despite the fact that the design has been around for over a century, there is still no one “correct” way to reload a double-action revolver. For instance, here are two very different methods being taught Two People Who Know What They’re Doing™, Clint Smith and Massad Ayood:

Part of the reason for the wide array of techniques is that reloading a revolver presents the user with two contradictory challenges. The first is that fitting fresh cartridges into a revolver cylinder requires enormous amounts of fine motor skills (even single-loading rifle cartridges into a bolt-action is easier). The second is that the revolver’s cylinder is best emptied and refilled when the gun is pointed in certain directions - straight up (relative to the ground) for ejection, straight down for refilling.

When you isolate and solve the first problem (as Clint does by keeping the revolver out in front of him, in sight, and pointed at the threat in the above video) you invariably compound the other problem (IMHO, Clint’s method is geared toward moonclips - speedloaders don’t work reliably when the gun is horizontal).

The method that seems to work best for me is taught by snubbie revolver guru Michael de Bethencourt:

I break it down into three main steps:

1) Two Pinches - I call this step “Two Pinches” because you’re essentially pinching the cylinder with your left hand and pinching the rest of the gun with your right hand. From a standard firing grip, place your right hand thumb on top of the revolver and your right hand index finger alongside the cylinder. Place your left hand thumb on the cylinder release and your left index finger alongside the cylinder. Roll open the cylinder, being careful to control it with both index fingers and the left hand thumb. After the cylinder is open, jam your right index finger onto the cylinder to control it.

2) Hands Up - Bring your hands up, palms toward you, and use the left hand to strike the ejector rod to dump your empty cartridge cases. With “Hands Up,” the left hand can eject the fired cases while still being ready to ward off blows or deliver a strike to an attacker that has closed to bad breath distance. Since your revolver is in a full firing grip, you can also abort the ejection, close the cylinder, and use the revolver as an impact weapon, if need be.

3) Hands Down - Bring the revolver butt to your hip while reaching for your reload with your left hand. Reload the revolver, and close the cylinder, letting the speedloader or speed strip fall away. From this position, you can keep the revolver at your hip and fire from retention, or raise both arms to assume your shooting stance.

I like Michael de Bethencourt’s reload because you do not switch the revolver from one hand to the other. Switching hands takes time (since you have to break and then reacquire your firing grip); most importantly, switching hands is less secure and less positive (generally, in a fight, you want to maintain a hanging-on-for-dear-life-deathgrip on your gun, lest you lose it). The other advantage to this method is that it works naturally with how most people carry their guns (standard right hip holster, reloads on left side to balance it out).

There are some disadvantages, of course. The main drawback is that you may not have enough dexterity with your off hand to fish out your speedloader/speed strip/moon clip and place it in the revolver. Bringing your hands up to reload with palms inward also tends to telegraph the fact that you’re out of ammo. All in all, I think it’s important to figure out which method works best for you and to practice it regularly.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Food: Sheila's Famous BBQ, Conch and More

South Florida isn't exactly renowned for its barbecue, so I guess you would be entirely justified in approaching "Sheila's Famous BBQ, Conch and More" with a little skepticism. After all, the place is a small roadside stand in Lake Worth, Florida that serves Bahamian seafood along with the ribs and pulled pork. To a purist raised on traditional Southern barbecue, whether it’s from Texas, Memphis, South Carolina, or Kansas City, it must seem an incongruous combination.

Oddly enough, though, the mix of cuisines works well (who would have thought conch salad and collard greens make for a dynamite combo?) and the (rather traditional) barbecue is quite tasty. Even the sparse outdoor porch seating has a sort of folksy charm; the walls are painted in bright colors and there’s a flat screen so you can watch the talking heads on CNN while you eat. Portions are a touch small for the price you pay, but there’s no denying that this is some of the best barbecue in Palm Beach County.

2/4 stars

Mulliga's Christmas Spectacular - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Every time December rolls around, things get festive here at Shangrila Towers. This holiday season is no different, and we're rolling out Yuletide posts all the way up to Christmas Day. Today, we’ll take a look at one of my favorite Christmas comedies:

In 1983, director Harold Ramis and writer John Hughes struck box office gold with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” The movie paired Chevy Chase with the lovely Beverly D’Angelo (who proved to be every bit Chase’s comedic equal on-screen), and its success led to three sequels and one curious series of hotel commercials. Of that progeny, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is the only work that equals (and arguably surpasses) its parent.

The actual story of “Christmas Vacation” is pretty shallow, and nearly devoid of any spiritual or religious content. Essentially, Clark Griswold attempts to have the perfect old-fashioned family Christmas, in spite of his tendency to bungle everything he touches. The centerpiece of his plans is an expensive new swimming pool in the backyard paid for by his Christmas bonus, a quaint notion in these dark economic times.

The Clark Griswold character is well-known for slapstick comedy, and there’s plenty here (including a saucer sledding scene that had me in stitches the first time I saw it). Most of my favorite moments in the movie, though, involve Chase’s talent for mangling the English language. Whether it’s conversing with a buxom department store clerk, delivering a crazy monologue at Christmas dinner, or snidely insulting his Cousin Eddie, Chase’s wordplay imbues the Griswold family patriarch with varying levels of anger, frustration, and madness, without ever losing the audience’s sympathy.

The film opened at #2 (for some insane reason, it was released only a week after “Back to the Future: Part II” - hard to imagine something like that happening in 2010) and has deservedly become a holiday staple. So, the next time it gets “nipply” out there, pull out “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Guns: The Little Big Revolver - Ruger SP101 Review

The Ruger SP101 is a steel-framed revolver first introduced in 1989. It's still one of Ruger's best sellers, and you can find models chambered in .38 Special +P, .357 Magnum, and .327 Federal Magnum. This review will examine the 3" barrel .357 Magnum variant.

First Impressions - One Heavy-Duty Dubba

Most reviews of the SP101 call it "tanklike," "solid," or "beefy," and I found that these are indeed apt descriptors. Though the 3" SP101 weighs in at 27 ounces (only about two ounces heavier than a comparable 3" S&W Model 60), it has a very substantial, muzzle-heavy feel in hand. Aside from the compact 5-shot cylinder, the gun's dimensions seem more akin to a K-frame or a Security Six than a J-frame.

The blocky full underlug gives the SP101 an interesting muzzle profile (it reminds me of a ship from the "Homeworld" PC game). As Stephen A. Camp found, the top strap, cylinder, and forcing cone are all slightly larger than a J-frame. These are key areas in a revolver, and it's not surprising that the SP101 has earned a reputation for being very durable.

Mechanically, the gun doesn't depart from established Ruger conventions. The SP101 does not use a sideplate; the major internal components drop into the one-piece frame. The Ruger design locks up at the yoke; there's no detent for the ejector rod, and the rod itself doesn't spin at all. The rod is much longer than those found in S&W snubbies - a brisk press of the thumb will eject all but the most onerous cases easily. The gun uses Ruger's transfer bar safety which you can see in the picture below:

Ergonomics - Rough Around the Edges

The SP101 trigger is noticeably heavier, grittier, and rougher than S&W's J-frames. Both designs used coil mainsprings instead of leaf mainsprings. Though many of the SP101's springs are actually lighter than S&W's, through some combination of lockwork, trigger/grip geometry, and plain old Yankee craftsmanship, the SP101 comes out the loser when compared to a Smith. Both my old 642 (with several thousand rounds) and a new 638 had better pulls than the SP101.

I also found that the overall fit and finish of the revolver was several steps behind a S&W. There are sharp, non-radiused edges on the trigger and the trigger guard, as well as some nasty corners on the hammer spur. Granted, it's not too hard to sand, file, and polish these away, but it's still an issue.

Except for the .327 Fed. Magnum, all SP101s come with fixed sights. The sights are tough and bombproof, with a rear groove and a black front sight ramp. They're noticeably larger than the tiny 1-7/8" barrel J-frame sights, and work fine for the SP101's intended purpose (concealed carry and home defense).

Field Strip and Disassembly

The SP101 can be disassembled without (too much) trouble; the procedure is detailed in the instruction manual. One word of warning: unless you need to work on the trigger itself, once the trigger assembly is out, set it aside and do not manipulate the trigger in any way. The trigger assembly contains a number of small parts and springs that can be easy to lose.

Range Report

In testing the SP101, I used some of my own standard pressure .38 reloads (a Speer 158 gr. LSWCHP over 3.5 grains of Bullseye) as well as some factory .38s (Winchester White Box 130 grainers and UMC +P 125 grainers - huge amount of flash) and .357s (Remington 158 gr. SJHP). All loads fed and functioned without issue; all told, I've put about 500 rounds through this SP101.

As I expected, the recoil and blast of the .357s was intense - definitely at the top end of what is tolerable for most shooters (and me). I actually cut my trigger finger on the sharp edges of the trigger guard after shooting a single cylinder of the .357s. Needless to say, my practical accuracy with full-house .357 loads was poor; nothing creates a flinch quite like the gun physically cutting you. On the other hand, the .38s were quite pleasant to shoot. I managed some decent groups with them, averaging at about 1.5" at 10 yards in single action slow fire.


The Ruger SP101 is a good revolver with some caveats. It's probably the only .357 Magnum on the market that is both light enough to comfortably carry and heavy enough to make shooting magnum loads practical. It's as accurate and reliable as its competitors, and is usually priced well under S&W's stainless steel J, K, and L frame models.

At the same time, though, the gun won't win any beauty contests, and it won't feel right in hand unless you can correct (or learn to ignore) all the sharp edges. The most significant issue is the trigger - if you thought the J-Frame trigger was heavy, the SP101 will feel like a staple gun. Overall, this is a no-frills handgun that does what it is supposed to do - no more and no less.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

December 7th, 1941

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

Congress declared war on Japan an hour after the speech (remember the old days when the United States formally declared war? It's been a while since it happened). These were indeed simpler times; even FDR, a full-on supporter of the nanny-state, basically committed us to wiping the Empire of Japan off the face of the planet.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Miscellany: Harbor Freight Tools

If you're the least bit worried about the massive trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, walking into a "Harbor Freight Tools" location is like stepping into a nightmare. The walls are lined with Chinese-made tools fresh off some shipping container from Taizhou, and everything is geared towards being as cheap as possible - just check out their marketing:

In a rather outlandish display of cynicism, the majority of Harbor Freight's products are branded with names intended to sound American, like "Chicago Electric" or "Pittsburgh Tools," as if they could fool people into thinking the tools actually come from Chicago or Pittsburgh.

Now, I realize most of the stuff in the average Home Depot is foreign-made, too, but the tools I've bought from Harbor Freight are even more crudely finished and unrefined then the big box stores, so they don't even use the good Chinese factories to make their stuff. My Lyman-branded digital calipers, for example, are tighter and more reliable then the Harbor Freight digital calipers. My Mexican-made Stanley Prybar has better fit and finish than the generic chunks of metal on sale at Harbor Freight.

Does that mean everything in there is junk? No; there are some decent tools on sale if you search the web. IMO, though, if you're going to outsource our manufacturing, at least do it right.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Miscellany: Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit, Part 5

While my blog is mainly about escaping the mundane through art and adventure, this series of posts addresses "escape" in a more literal sense. Here, I present my ideas on a lightweight, inexpensive collection of items for surviving an urban or suburban disaster. Part 1 introduced the concept and went into my choice for the survival kit's container. Part 2 discussed some options for your first aid kit. Part 3 examined water and food. We also looked at some books on survival. Part 4 featured some clothing accessories for your kit. Part 5 tackles various tools for signaling, communications, and navigation:

Emergency Whistle - The human voice only carries so far, and in extreme conditions, your voice may fail altogether (think of Rose in the water at the end of "Titanic"). A whistle is a great option for signaling help or for simple communication with fellow rescuers/survivors. There are a number of good designs on the market, with varying degrees of loudness, ruggedness, and portability. I like the ITW Nexus Aqua Marine Whistle - super light, buoyant, and rugged. It also features a handy built-in clip for attaching to your gear.

Signaling Mirror - Another time-tested survival tool, and one of the simplest and best ways to signal a ship or aircraft (you can carry a flare gun, but those are a bit impractical for an urban kit IMHO).

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of a signal mirror is highly dependent on environmental factors. If the weather is bad or there's a lot of debris in the air (as there was on 9/11), the mirror's range will be severely limited. I pack an Ultimate Survival 2x3 StarFlash, but any reputable brand will work.

Writing Supplies - Not everything in your kit is a fancy survival gadget. A Sharpie and a pad of Post-It Notes can provide an easy way to communicate with other people wandering inside a building, especially rescuers trying to find you. Specialized options, like the popular Rite in the Rain all-weather paper, work great for taking notes and making maps.

Spare Cellphone - There probably won't be any cellular service if a major disaster hits. Once emergency services gets a handle on the situation, though, a cell phone is still the easiest way to contact your loved ones to tell them you're okay. I keep an old but fully charged phone in my kit; if my regular phone goes TU, then it's easy to swap out the SIM card and use the old phone instead.

Two-Way Radio - This is the spendiest device on the list, and it's definitely a luxury item. Still, a portable radio like the ubiquitous Motorola Talkabout can provide excellent short range signaling and communications. Be careful, though...these things eat up batteries like candy.

AM/FM Radio - When the power goes out, so do most methods of mass communication - suddenly you can't get any news from your TV, your computer, or even your iPhone. A portable battery-operated radio is cheap insurance against being left in the dark the next time a major disaster hits. Here's one I recommend:

--- Eton Microlink FR150 Review ---

Eton has a full line of crank-operated dynamo radios, and the Eton Microlink FR150 (Eton currently sells a slightly updated version, the FR160) is the smallest of the lot. It can receive AM, FM, and weather band (especially useful here in South Florida). There's also a built-in LED light - it's chintzy, but it works.

It's a pretty solid, well-built unit, with decent reception through its small telescoping antenna. In addition to the crank, you can charge the radio via the top-mounted solar panels or through a USB connection. There's an option to charge your cell phone, but it's reportedly a hit or miss affair that may damage or destroy your phone, so I wouldn't mess with it.

Map & Compass

GPS is great - when it works. When all the batteries run out, you just might have to navigate the old fashioned way. Get a good compass and a map in a scale that makes sense, and practice orienteering in a place with few obvious landmarks.

That does it for this installment. Tune in for M.U.S.K. Part 6, where we'll talk about tools, tools, and more tools.