Sunday, January 31, 2016

Miscellany: Bicycle EDC

When I'm on a mountain bike, I carry a little bit less gear than I normally do.

Firearm: S&W Shield 9mm in DeSantis Intruder (the holster works okay, but retention is poor)
Wallet: Big Skinny multi-pocket bifold
Spare Magazine: Factory eight round mag (in Comp-Tac Single Mag Pouch)
Flashlight: Fenix LD09 (old version that starts up in medium mode)
Keys: Two bike lock keys (one lock for each wheel) and a bottle opener
Knife: Spyderco P'kal (worn in jeans front pocket)
Multitool: Victorinox Tinker Small (it's basically a scaled-down version of the normal Tinker)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Guns: SIG P938 review - A Singular Single Stack 9mm


Aside from the 1911, gun makers are introducing relatively few single-action pistols nowadays. There are probably a number of reasons for that, but I think a big one is that today's handgun buyers want the simplest manual of arms possible. In the turmoil of a defensive shooting, a lot of people fear (rightly) that they'll forget or be unable to disengage that safety.

The SIG P938 is an outlier, then, in that it's a single-action in a sea of striker-fired single-stack 9mms - the Kahrs, the S&Ws, the GLOCKs, the Rugers. The pistol even superficially resembles a 1911, though the internals are very different. Is the P938's uniqueness a good thing, or is it an affectation of a bygone era?

First Impressions

SIGs are generally pricey, and the P938 is no exception. The Rosewood model I picked up has a street price of $650, give or take some, which is hundreds of dollars more than comparable single-stack polymer-framed 9mms. For that sort of coin, you wish they did more than give you a single 6-round magazine and a crappy injection-molded OWB holster (in fairness, SIG was also running a mail-in promo that included two more magazines and a gun rug, pictured above). 

Once the gun is in hand, you do see where some of that money is going, though - checkered rosewood grips, checkered front strap, dehorned frame and slide. Despite being a small aluminum framed 9mm, I never got cut or bitten by any part of the P938, which is more than I can say about other guns in this category.

Sights, Trigger, Safety

Most models of the P938 sport the SIGLITE night sights that come on most of the company's guns. They're excellent bright green tritium three dots that are very precise in any light condition, and are one of the biggest selling points on the gun.

On the the other hand, people expecting a crisp 1911-like trigger pull might be disappointed. It's not that the serrated trigger is bad, but it's heavier and creepier than it should be considering the usability penalty imposed by the safety. The safety itself is ambidextrous and positive, but tiny. I have small hands, but I had trouble consistently flicking it on and off at speed.

Range Report Part 1

Out of the gates, the P938's design proved to be reliable, but my particular gun developed a couple of parts-related problems. One of the tritium vials in the rear sight broke (which happens sometimes with night sights), and the two-piece guide rod refused to stay screwed-in (which is a problem unique to the P938, and only remedied by a specialty threadlocker - that is, something with more oomph than Loctite):

SIG shipped me a new guide rod immediately, and gave me prepaid shipping to send in my slide and install new sights, all for free. So, you do pay more, but you get the customer service to back it up.

Here are a few groups from this time period:

18 shots of Winchester Super X 147 gr. TMJ at 10 yards - this was when I noticed the guide rod coming unscrewed. It didn't cause any failures, though:

Winchester 124 gr. (NATO-spec) at 10 yards:

14 rounds of standard pressure 124 gr. Speer Gold Dots:

14 rounds of S&B 115 gr. 9mm, 10 yards:

Range Report Part 2

After everything was squared away, I proceeded to shoot a wide variety of different ammo types through the gun. Reliability was generally excellent, and accuracy was about as good as you can expect from a 16 ounce 3" barreled 9mm.

Here are 7 rounds of S&B at 15 yards offhand, which I think is stretching the limits of what the gun is designed for. I got one light strike in this magazine:

12 rounds of good old Winchester White Box 115 grainers at 10 yards.

The same amount of rounds at 15 yards. Again, the SIG is accurate enough to make decent hits at this distance, but it's starting to get iffy:

14 shots at 10 yards of Speer Lawman 115 gr. TMJ:

14 rounds of Federal 115 gr. bulk pack at 10 yards:


When the safety is disengaged on the P938, it's a fine CCW pistol. The problem is getting to that point, which requires using your thumb to push down a lever that's the size of a Tic Tac, on a gun that you're only holding with two other fingers. For me, this was impractical. If I were to carry this gun, I would install an extended thumb safety immediately.

Links: Blogrollin' in the New Year

The life of a blog is nasty, brutish, and short. It takes a lot of effort to keep one going, even if you're doing it for a living.  A sudden change in circumstances (a new family, a new job, the abrupt collapse of your media network) can kill a blog in an instant.

I try to keep my blogroll stocked with only regularly updated blogs, so here are a few additions...and subtractions... 

+ Gamasutra: Once upon a time, I wanted to be a computer game developer, so this blog - written by devs for devs - is an interesting behind-the-scenes look on a life that never was. There are articles on the technical and design stuff (best practices for HD remakes) and on the business aspects (how to monetize your freemium game without selling your soul).

+ Destructoid and Kotaku: It's weird to think of Destructoid and Kotaku as the elder statesmen of video game culture blogs, but we are in 2016, and a lot of their competitors have come and gone, victims of the social media age and a dearth of advertising dollars for all but the latest triple-A game releases. I'm mainly putting them on the blogroll to see how long they last.

- Art of the Rifle: Rifleslinger's blog was the story of one person's journey into field riflecraft, an art that is in danger of becoming lost in the frenzy of 14-pound long range precision rifles and tactical carbines. It'll be on the Web indefinitely though, and remains a great resource.

- The Robot's Voice: This website, which used to be called "Topless Robot," was a reliable source of convention reports, movie trailers, bad fanfics, and pop culture news. It will be missed.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Food: My sister's guide to eating out in Atlanta, Georgia

Ria's Bluebird (3/4 stars)

Atlanta has no shortage of great breakfast places, so it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Ria's Bluebird, a breakfast/lunch cafe, does it with hearty creative dishes (like a brisket breakfast or a duck eggs benedict) and an interesting location across from the Oakland Cemetery. Founded by the late Ria Pell, a noted local restaurateur and "Chopped" winner, Ria's Bluebird gets pretty crowded pretty fast.

Octane Coffee Bar (3/4 stars)

If you have a soft spot for hipster coffee (you know, the kind where the people behind the counter talk about "seasonality" and "single origin" as opposed to "cream" and "sugar"), you'll love Octane, a local coffee chain with a half-dozen locations spread across Atlanta. It's a bit expensive, but I really liked my cup of fancy pour-over, and you won't find a more relaxing coffee bar in the city.

The Colonnade Restaurant (2/4 stars)

They say that quantity has a quality all its own, and nowhere is that more true than "The Colonnade Restaurant," a traditional Southern-style restaurant that's been around since 1927. That's not to say the food is bad - the fried chicken and collard greens are delicious - but the place is packed because of the enormous portions and reasonable prices (two breasts, two wings, and two sides for $15).

Cafe Jonah (2/4 stars)

My sister is an artist, so it makes sense she'd gravitate to something like Cafe Jonah. Selling "fresh food, coffee, and inspiration," Cafe Jonah donates a percentage of its profits to local charities, and the upstairs features psychic readers and tea time. Of course, food is first, and the cafe features a "pay what you can" Sunday brunch that is head-and-shoulders above the normal breakfast buffet.

(Unfortunately, it looks like Cafe Jonah is closing at the end of February 2016, so go while you can.)

Tech: Axiom Verge

If ever there was a video game that qualified as a labor of love, it's "Axiom Verge," a Metroidvania title with programming, story, art, and music all done by one person, Tom Happ, over a period of five years:

You play as Trace, a scientist caught in a lab accident that transports him to an alien planet. Trace's only hope of returning to Earth is a race of giant biomechanoid titans, the Rusalki. Unfortunately, the Rusalki are dying from a mysterious enemy. Square by square, door by door, Trace must explore and fight through this strange new world to save them - and himself.

Developer Tom Happ must have spent a lot of time obsessing over this game, because every aspect of "Axiom Verge" has been polished and re-polished to a mirror sheen. The controls are perfect - jumping, shooting, and grappling always feel natural, which is an impressive feat considering the huge arsenal you eventually amass. The graphics are retro, but detailed, with a distinct H.R. Giger/E.C. Comics flair to all of the enemies and environments. The music might be the biggest surprise of all - it's by turns energetic, contemplative, and eerie. Just listen to this:

The only things keeping "Axiom Verge" from a higher score are the disappointing final map and boss, and the fact that sometimes the backtracking feels too aimless (the game really could've used a general "objective" marker to help steer exploration). In the end, though, this is easily one of the best Metroid-style games I've ever played.

Rating: 88/100

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Movies: Domhnall Gleeson Triple Feature

Weirdly enough, I've seen three films starring Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson over the past three weeks: "Ex Machina," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and "The Revenant." That's a banner year for any actor (two of those movies are huge blockbusters, and the other is well-reviewed high-concept sci-fi), but let's see how he did in each one.

Ex Machina

Gleeson Factor: 10/10

Gleeson is the protagonist of this meditation on artificial intelligence, and his character's cat-and-mouse relationship with a reclusive tech billionaire (played by Gleeson's "Star Wars" co-star Oscar Isaac) is easily the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, the story itself is a warmed-over mishmash of familiar concepts going back to Mary Shelley, but it does move briskly and looks gorgeous thanks to Alex Garland's direction.

Rating: 7/10

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[everyone's seen the official trailer a hundred times, so here's the George Lucas special edition]

Gleeson Factor: 4/10

Gleeson plays General Hux, a younger, more Nazi-fied version of the villainous Governor Tarkin. He's not the main baddie of the movie, but he absolutely chews the scenery in a long monologue that is such an on-the-nose reproduction of Riefenstahl that you can't help but laugh.  As for the movie, I loved the first hour, but everything went south when J.J. Abrams decided to cut-and-paste Episodes VI, V, and VI into the second half of the film.

Rating (first hour): 9/10
Rating (second hour): 5/10

The Revenant

Gleeson Factor: 6/10

Gleeson's character in this one is a (heavily) fictionalized version of Andrew Henry, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He plays the "straight" man compared with the resolute Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio, in the role that will surely win him his first Oscar) and the devious John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Gleeson manages to convey a righteousness that is tragically at odds with the amoral, majestic wilderness shot by director Alejandro Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

Rating: 8/10