Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guns: National Armory Guns & Range review

There are a few indoor gun ranges on the way to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, but the most reputable looking one is National Armory off of I-95 in Pompano. It's got a full-size gun store with a better-than-average selection and a 25 yard indoor range that can handle rifle calibers:

It's a decent range: clean, well-stocked, and equipped with electronic target controls. The service was fine, though I wish they piped in more air-conditioning (the range was at a sweating-in-my-shirt 80+ degrees when I was there). Other than that, it was a fairly efficient and unremarkable shooting experience.

For the range review, I cracked out an oldie-but-goodie: my CZ-75B.

Music: Gaming Fantasy review (Taylor Davis violin album)

A video game soundtrack can be more emotionally affecting than any other piece of music. You're not only associating the game's soundtrack with a story, you're associating it with a story that you're participating in. For an avid gamer, just hearing one of these pieces is enough to trigger a powerful rush of nostalgia...nostalgia for places and events that only happened on a Ricoh 5A22.

Today's musical feature is guaranteed to tap into this deep well of gamer goodwill: the album "Gaming Fantasy," by Taylor Davis (better known as ViolinTay on Youtube). As the title suggests, much of the music is taken from Square's "Final Fantasy" series (composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu), including favorites like "Cid's Theme" (FFVII) and "To Zanarkand" (FFX), though other standout tracks include music from "Skyrim" and "The Legend of Zelda."

These are all fairly straightforward covers, with Davis' violin-playing front and center. I thought they were pretty well done, though not as sumptuously produced or technically perfect as the official classical cover versions of these soundtracks. If it sounds like something you're interested in, you can preview the album from Taylor Davis' website here.

Links: Blogrolling, Summer swelter edition

A couple more additions to the Shangrila Towers blogroll...

Art of the Rifle - A very focused, compulsively useful blog about rifle shooting. And I mean "rifle shooting" in a pure sense - no AR/AK gear, no giant honking benchrest varmint guns, no competition stuff that is impractical in real life. Rifleslinger tries to discuss only techniques and gear that will help you achieve a first-round hit on a target, in the field, at unknown ranges, with a mainstream caliber rifle (i.e. .30-06/.308).

chainsawsuit - Kris Straub is probably best known for drawing the sci-fi webcomic "Starslip," which recently ended its seven year run. "chainsawsuit" is a bit easier to get into, since it's a gag-a-day strip with little in the way of continuity. The topics differ, but you can count on a steady stream of jokes about pop culture, gaming, movies...and pee.

Tech: Spelunky review (XBLA version)

"Spelunky" is a free indie PC game which recently got a massive HD facelift and release on the Xbox Live Arcade. It's something of a cross between "Spelunker," "Rogue," and "Dig Dug"/"Bomberman" - you traverse randomly generated caves full of enemies, traps, and amazing treasure:

The game is notable for its high (but mostly fair) degree of difficulty. While your explorer is well-equipped (you start with a whip, bombs, and climbing ropes, and can acquire all sorts of helpful stuff as you progress), the entire environment is out to kill you. Try to steal from the normally-kindly shopkeeper, and the old man transforms into a shotgun-wielding maniac. Inadvertently bomb an altar of Kali, and spiders flood the screen...or worse.

The difficulty, balanced with the wide variety of items and environments, alternates you between power and helplessness. In some moments, I felt unstoppable, like when I was slashing snakes to bits with a machete or soaring through the air on a jetpack. In others, I felt like prey - hiding from man-eating plants, angry cavemen, and nigh-invulnerable giant killer bees. Each playthrough feels different as a result, encouraging you to see if you can get yourself out of the colossal pickle you're in this time.

Every time your hero dies, though, that's it, game over. There's no reloading, no respawning, none of the handholding that robs modern games of their tension. Like the games it's inspired by, "Spelunky" tasks you with getting it right in a single go-around.

Thanks to the randomization of the levels, restarting is never a chore. And, after awhile, you get noticeably better at the game, picking up little tips and tricks - you don't take fall damage if you land on an enemy, you can trigger the tiki spike traps intentionally to vault past them when they're resetting, you can throw unconscious enemies into other foes to cause massive chain reactions. On the macro level, you get better at navigation, learning when to plough through harsh areas and when to play it safe by bombing, climbing, and running away from treacherous rooms and enemies.

All in all, "Spelunky" is a great game, easily the best platformer I've played in years. It takes all the thrill of exploration in a Metroidvania game and alloys it with diamond-hard, addictive platforming.

Rating: 90/100

All it takes is one person.

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who sent their best wishes and condolences in the past few weeks; it's much appreciated. I'm back to normal blogging, and it seems like it's time to address the elephant in the room: the tragic murders in Aurora, Colorado that were perpetrated yesterday.

For everyone who carries a concealed firearm, it's only natural. You wonder what you would have done if you were in that movie theatre. Run away? Draw your gun? Hide?

There's really no way to tell, and no one can really judge. Even the most badass Special Forces soldier might not like his odds with a small handgun against a rifle-toting madman, clad in body armor, in a dark theatre full of teargas and scrambling innocent people. I don't think it's "cowardly" to choose not to engage the spree shooter, though of course it's better for everyone else if you choose to intervene:

The big thing, of course, is being in a position to make that choice in the first place. Don't leave the gun at home. Don't think, "Well, I'm in a hurry - I can do without my piece today." Don't say, "There's no way anything bad is going to happen at [church/the movies/the mall/wherever]." Don't leave the gun in the car.

Remember that you're in a tiny minority, a legally armed citizen who regularly carries. Most people won't (or can't) carry a gun. I'm reminded of the time that a blackout hit the local supermarket, and I pulled out my EDC flashlight. Everyone looked amazed, dumbfounded, all because I had a flashlight. If you find yourself amidst a mass shooting, I hope there's no bystander effect - in all likelihood, you're the only CCW there. Act accordingly. And remember the first rule.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The 4th of July

There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

- Patrick Henry, Second Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Books: "The Cornered Cat - A Woman's Guide to Concealed Carry" review

A coworker recently asked for my advice on getting a CCW permit. Rather than reinvent the wheel by trying to cover the entire universe of concealed carry issues, I gave her Kathy Jackson's book, "The Cornered Cat - A Woman's Guide to Concealed Carry."

The content is largely similar to Jackson's website, Cornered Cat. This is straight talk about how to pick a gun, how to shoot a gun, and how to hide a gun, all from a female perspective (for instance, Kathy devotes a decent amount of space to purse carry, since that's the only way many women can realistically carry a gun without changing their entire wardrobe).

It's all pretty user-friendly and entirely machismo free. Recognizing that nothing breaks the ice like a joke, each chapter opens with a quip from Gunhilda:

Dear Gunhilda,

Yesterday, as I was headed out the door to pick up some personal supplies, my husband asked me to grab some .22LR ammunition for our weekend trip to the range. Happy to oblige, I stopped off at the Giant Mart and picked up the items I needed, and then went back to the sporting goods counter to buy the ammunition.

When I asked the sales lady to give me a couple boxes of .22 ammunition, she took one look at the bottle of Midol and box of tampons already in my cart and then turned ghost white. "Honey," she said, "are you okay?"

I didn't know what to say!
Flustered in Farmington

Dear Flustered,

I just hope you didn't reply, "The ammunition is for my husband."


My only real complaint is that the book doesn't have illustrations showing some of the things being discussed - it's hard to describe proper grip and stance, or a purse-mounted holster, without using an image. Overall, though, this is probably one of the best-written woman-oriented books on concealed carry out there, and it's well worth a read for ladies who want to arm up.

Movies: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Mom and I needed to take a break from all the waiting, so we went to a movie Friday night. Given our mood, we weren't going to see something like "Ted" or "Magic Mike," so we settled on "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," an apocalyptic dramedy starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley:

In "Seeking a Friend," the world confronts the impending doom of a 70-mile wide asteroid named Matilda. Some people commit suicide, some engage in senseless hedonism, and others, like our heroes Dodge (Carell) and Penny (Knightley), have an existential crisis. After a riot forces the two out of their apartment, they embark on a journey to find Dodge's high school sweetheart and a plane to fly Penny to her family in England.

There are plenty of movies with a similar premise, so "Seeking a Friend" really needed to be executed well in order to make an impression. Unfortunately, Carell and Knightley don't have much chemistry, and they seem more like stock characters than real people (Knightley is a classic MPDG, and Carell is basically reprising his glum role in "Dan in Real Life"). They try hard, but there just isn't much story here; when the asteroid finally does hit, you'll be more relieved than anything else.

Rating: 5/10