Sunday, June 30, 2019

Books: An Economist Walks into a Brothel - and Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk

The runaway success of "Freakonomics" has prompted a plethora of pop-econ books over the years, but the award for most attention-grabbing title probably goes to "An Economist Walks into a Brothel" by Allison Schrager:

Schrager's book explains how people deal with pricing, assuming, and mitigating risk, but instead of case studies on stuffy hedge funds and the Great Recession, it features little known areas: the titular Moonlite BunnyRanch, paparazzi photos, racehorse breeding, and big wave surfing, to name a few. It's fun to delve into these wacky worlds, and Schrager's basic premise is pretty egalitarian - it doesn't matter whether you're a president or a prostitute, everyone has to deal with risk in intelligent ways to go through life.

"An Economist Walks Into a Brothel" does lose some steam when it tries to intermittently layer in some basic personal finance and insurance advice (if you're a functioning, non-bankrupt adult, you've already absorbed everything in these portions through trial and error). Still, it's harmless advice, and the rest of the book is an entertaining walk through the world of risk.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Summer of Kaiju: Kill All Monsters!

As a kid, I spent summers watching old Godzilla VHS tapes from the local Blockbuster. Since then, I've associated the sweltering season with giant monsters flattening cities into rubble. In that spirit, I'm doing a series of kaiju-themed posts for the dog days of June and July...

"Kill All Monsters!" is a comic written by Michael May and illustrated by Jason Copland. It's set in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, one where towering mutants (inadvertently created by nuclear weapon tests in the '50s) have already destroyed Earth's cities and driven mankind underground. The only hope for destroying these mutants is the Kill Team, a group of (what else?) giant robots with all-too-human pilots.
"Kill All Monsters!" wears its influences on its sleeve (one of the robots even has a Voltron-like cat head), but it never resorts to regurgitating cliches. There's a surprising amount of character work and plot twists to accompany the battle scenes, which gives them more narrative heft than something like "Pacific Rim." Don't worry, though - there are still lots of knock-down, drag-out fights, with clean cartoonish art that's reminiscent of Jeff Smith's work in "Bone" and "Shazam."

The first volume of "Kill All Monsters!" was Kickstarted into print some years ago and then picked up by Dark Horse in a handsome Omnibus edition. I highly recommend getting your hands on it if you're a kaiju fan.

Miscellany: Victorinox Rambler review

I've carried a variety of mini-tools on my keychain, but the longest-tenured to date has been the Victorinox Rambler:

The Rambler is similar to the "Classic" keychain Swiss Army knife you can find in many big box stores, but with the key inclusion of the (tremendously useful) bottle opener/mini Phillips screwdriver. Throw in a blade, scissors, tweezers, toothpick, and nail file with flathead driver head, and you have a handy tool that weighs little more than an ounce and is still slim enough to ride on the average keyring.

Summer of Kaiju: Into the Breach review (Nintendo Switch)

As a kid, I spent summers watching old Godzilla VHS tapes from the local Blockbuster. Since then, I've associated the sweltering season with giant monsters flattening cities into rubble. In that spirit, I'm doing a series of kaiju-themed posts for the dog days of June and July...

"Into the Breach" is a turn-based strategy game that pits your team of mechs against an apocalyptic invasion of the Vek, a race of giant homicidal insects attacking for unknown reasons. Each turn, you maneuver your three mechs and use their abilities to prevent the Vek from destroying the last vestiges of civilization. Allow too many hits on civilian buildings, and it's game over - all you get to save for the next run is one pilot, who time travels to the past and back into the breach.

I enjoyed Subset Games's first game, "FTL," for its use of the roguelike format to force desperate decisionmaking. The design of "Into the Breach" is even more elegant - the game tells you exactly what the Vek will do (right down to the turn order of each monster) and how your planned actions will affect their attacks. Despite this perfect information, you always feel outnumbered, outgunned, and outflanked in the game's claustrophobic 8 x 8 tile battlefields. 

Each battle feeds you a buffet of bad options. Do you damage one of your mechs to block a city-flattening attack from a huge wasp? Do you use your shield ability to protect the mission objective or a city full of innocent people? Do you concentrate fire on the boss-like Alpha Vek or deal with its minions? Whatever happens, it'll be your choices that decided the outcome, not some random number generator (one of the main problems with "FTL").

"Into the Breach" is available on the Nintendo Switch, and it's the best platform to play it on. The game is perfect for 10 and 20-minute sessions, enough time for a tense battle or two while waiting for a plane or riding on a train. If you're in the mood for a pitched battle against mutant insectoids, I highly recommend it.

Rating: 84/100

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Guns: Ruger LCR review (.38 Spl +P) - Almost A Revolution


It's been 10 years since Ruger introduced the LCR revolver. At the time, I was unsure whether the LCR would supplant the venerable S&W J-Frame as America's snubnose of choice, or whether it would be shunned as too radical by revolver fans (a conservative bunch, almost by definition).

As it turned out, the LCR performed somewhere in between those two extremes. Unlike S&W's mostly-forgotten M&P Bodyguard revolver, the LCR has proven to be popular enough for Ruger to introduce numerous variants in multiple calibers, including rimfire and external hammer versions. I've owned several LCRs, including the .38 Special +P-chambered model in today's review, and I've liked them all.

At the same time, the LCR's high MSRP (almost $100 more than a 642) and certain design choices have kept it from snubbie superiority, to the point where I've sold all my LCRs. What design choices am I talking about? Read on...

Sights and Trigger

Ruger was working with a blank slate with the LCR, so I have no idea why the company chose to copy the vestigial sights that have been foisted on snubnose revolver shooters for years. The base LCR sights are terrible - hard to see and difficult to aim with.

The easiest way to fix that problem is a set of Crimson Trace lasergrips (pictured is the now-discontinued LG-411 boot grip version). I still find it strange that Ruger didn't opt for better sights, like those on Kimber's K6s.

On the other hand, the "constant force trigger" Ruger put into the revolver was and is a quantum leap over an off-the-rack J-Frame trigger, and has undoubtedly accounted for numerous sales. If you've been turned off by the staplegun-like triggers of the typical J-Frame, the LCR may be just the ticket.

Size Comparison and Accessories

One big gripe I had with the LCR was its size. In a world of double-stack polymer pistols, most snubbies are backup guns, and the LCR is physically larger than a J-Frame - not by much, but enough to matter in a pants pocket or ankle holster.

Thus, while the LCR can use a few holsters designed for J-Frames, it mostly requires its own specific holsters. Similarly, J-Frame speedloaders sometimes work in the LCR, but sometimes don't. I was bummed when my trusty Safariland Comp 1s couldn't fit into the gun, for instance.

Range Report

The LCR shot about as well as any J-Frame, and I noticed the smoother trigger contributed to groups that were well-centered in terms of windage. The gun gave me no malfunctions or light strikes.

Federal 158 gr lead round nose, 10 rounds at 10 yards:

Winchester 130 gr FMJ, 15 rounds at 10 yards:

Remington UMC 158 gr lead round nose, 15 rounds at 10 yards:

Winchester 125 gr SJHP +P, 10 rounds at 10 yards:

Remington HTP 158 gr LSWCHP +P (pseudo FBI load with snappy recoil), 10 rounds at 10 yards:

Magtech 158 gr FMJ, 10 rounds at 10 yards:

Hornady Critical Defense 110 gr FTX, 15 rounds at 10 yards (fairly decent terminal ballistics):


Though I am still carrying my trusty J-Frames (a custom 642 and 640, to be featured in future reviews), I do appreciate what the LCR brings to the table. I would recommend that anyone looking for a snubnose revolver try out the LCR...just be sure to try the S&W, too.