Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Cor-Bon DPX and Setback.

Or, it doesn't.

I stopped measuring after chambering the same round five times. The first time, the OAL dropped from 1.118" to 1.115", and the next four times it stayed there. Interesting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Affligem Dubbel.

Alright, I'm nominating the Belgians for beer sainthood.

This shit rocks. It's Duvel, but cleaner more mellow. Rich and balanced, but with a sourness, like biting into a green apple. Plus, being bottle-conditioned, the last dude to hit up the bottle gets a slug of yeast, for a nutty, dry finish. Yes, this'll do nicely.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Radeberger Pilsner.

And for something completely different...

It's pale, it's crystal clear, it was made by someone who may have read about hops once in a trade journal...yes, it's Pilsner!

Seriously, I love this stuff, when it's done right. Light, crisp, the slightest hint of fruitiness...it's a great home-from-work beer, or a mowing-the-lawn beer. Brisk and enlivening, like first flush Darjeeling.

Radeberger is definitely light, with a lingering crispness, but a clean finish. I'm going to reserve final judgement until I try it whilst not congested.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Zywiec Porter.

No, I don't have the foggiest idea how to pronounce it. I do, however, know a couple of things:

1. This stuff is opaque. It's the epitome of 'dark beer.'
2. It's a fantastic porter, with a rich, malty, bittersweet body, and an understated, pleasing hoppy finish. Very full-flavored, with a hint of licorice.
3. The fact that it's 9.5% ABV explains my sudden lack of fine motor control.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On Firearms Drills.

The MEU(SOC) pistol course (warning: PDF) is an awesome all-around set of skills to practice. (No carbine? subtract 2 seconds or so). I think it's safe to assume, however, that the carbine in question is not supposed to be a Mosin-Nagant M38.

On Original Equipment.

I'm no car nut, but I'm pretty sure that high-intensity xenon headlamps are not standard on early 70's Beetles.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky.

Ways to make Eric happy:
1. Make a game with brilliant art direction and is breathtakingly beautiful even at low detail.
2. Improve combat balance, making all weapons fit into a 'niche' rather than a 'ladder' of progressively better guns.
3. Give the player lots to do right out of the gate, like participating in a ground war between two rival factions, and reward the player if they act decisively, striking the enemy hard and fast and clearing the way for the good guys.
4. Show the player that they're accomplishing something by showing faction strength.

Ways to make Eric unhappy:
1. Insert an unavoidable crash bug three levels and five real hours into the game.
2. Provide a patch to fix a bunch of stuff immediately after release.
3. ...that invalidates your save games, wasting five hours.

So far, it's a bit more 'gamey' than the original, but Clear Sky is a lot more polished, with less pointless walking between actions, more clearly defined objectives, and cool touches like the equipment upgrade system. (Branching tech trees to tweak a weapon to the player's specs is always good.) But that crash bug (right at the beginning of The Garbage) is just inexcusable. Merely walking into a new area should not kill a game. Period. Which is why I'm withholding "play this now" from the tag list until I confirm that particular gremlin has been banished.

On the Fall of the Wall.

Guns Magazine, December 1956. There's some other gems in the ads there, like some PTRDs that apparently dodged the 'destructive device' bit from the NFA.

"Their sale in no way aids any iron curtain country." Those were the days...

(If the Internet doesn't lie, that's $129 for the rifle, and $23.60 for a box of JSPs. Ammo was just as expensive back then, apparently.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

On Firefly and Guns.

One of the umpteen awesome things about Firefly is the selection of firearms. Because the aesthetic is a melange of everything from Old West and British Colonial up to Starship Troopers, just about anything looks right. It must be a great excuse to dust off those old pieces that have been lying unloved in the darkest corners of some gun-rental house's vault.

PRODUCTION DESIGNER: "Hey, guys, got anything kinda...different? We're arming some ship-jacker/chop-shop types."
GUN WRANGLER: "How's about a Webley Mk.6, a Browning Hi-Power Mk.2, and a Vigneron M2?"
PD: "Sounds good."

Sunday, September 14, 2008


So around these parts one of the staple beers is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It's notable for an almost creamy cascade hoppiness that's pretty damned tasty. Sierra Nevada released an Anniversary brew that is essentially the same, but with a shit-ton more hops. Which figures, seeing as it's described as an "American-style IPA."

And, yes, it's awesome.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On Salvo Fire.

So it occurred to me as I was thinking about the G11 project one day that the 'salvo' approach to improved hit probability may be somewhat flawed. Obviously, it was sound enough for H&K to develop a weapon system to maturity, so I must be missing something, and I'm going to ignore the "just learn to shoot" argument for a moment, because that's a separate ramble.

For those not familiar, here's the abstract: use caseless ammunition to remove the extraction/ejection portion of the firing cycle and speed up the firing rate to 2000+ RPM, fast enough that the gun can fire three rounds before the shooter feels the recoil; in effect, the gun throws three rounds at the same place and kicks - the shooter would perceive it as a semi-auto. The problem is that all three rounds are going the same place, and they're not far apart; there's a very slight time lag between round 1 and round 3, but at 3000+ feet per second, not much at all (~.03 of a second x 3000 feet/second = ~90 feet between rounds, with a total salvo impact time of .09 of a second). The accuracy of the barrel determines the dispersion; a little is good, because if hit probability is to increase we want to have a larger 'beaten area,' but an inaccurate barrel is going to cause problems when attempting to shoot precisely instead of 'taking an average.' Say the barrel shoots 2 MOA; that's a 2-inch diameter beaten zone. Not much of an improvement on a single round. With .09 seconds between the first and last impacts, there wouldn't be much of an advantage against moving targets. I'm reminded of a 'spread of torpedoes,' a tactic whereby a submarine fires three torpedoes dispersed at a target ship; if the ship continues abreast to the submarine, two hits are guaranteed, and the dispersed torpedoes diminishes the effectiveness of evasive maneuvers. On a land battlefield, not much is going to move fast enough for .09 of a second to matter, so it would essentially be three hits simultaneously. Compare to an M16A2's three-round burst: you have a quarter-second between the first and last round, and those three are going to disperse more in close quarters, giving a larger, though less regular, beaten zone. The irregularity is the tricky bit; automatic small arms take some skill to use to their full efficiency.

So we have three rounds essentially going in the same hole, give or take a few centimeters at range. There would be an improvement in terminal effects - close hits break through body armor, which was the stated objective of the AN-94 Abakan's 2-round burst at 2000 RPM - but if that were the case, why not just use a bigger, traditional round and save the complication? Furthermore, while there is an option of 'suppressive' traditional automatic fire at 480 RPM vs the 3-round 'salvo' for improved terminal effects, the stated goal is improved hit probability.

Project SALVO, the US Army's 1960s vintage project with similar goals, produced a modicum of experimental cartridges, with duplex slugs and flechette rounds the main avenues explored. And this here round seems to present the most logical approach to improved hit probability from a non-human engineering (sights, ergonomics) perspective.

The cool feature of that round (6.35x53mm) is that the duplex load has a symmetrical first round and an asymmetrical base to the second round - it's slanted slightly, producing a first hit that strikes the point of aim and a second hit that lands somewhere nearby. In automatic fire, the rounds would be randomly oriented, so as to produce a pattern around the impact point over time. Since it's a traditional cartridge, a single load, with optimized ballistics, can be used for precision work. With a larger cartridge to push the heavier duplex load, the simplex target loads could be powerful enough for single-shot interdiction at extended ranges. Say a cartridge size a bit larger than 6.8 SPC - 115gr at 2650 fps for that cartridge; bump it up a bit, with two duplex rounds of 5.56 size (50-60 grains, so 100-120 total), at 5.56 velocities to ensure terminal fragmentation. I'm no ballistician, but the first round could be optimized for stability while the second is given a calibrated dispersion.

If that were scaled up to triplex or more, there would be a very significant improvement in hit probability at battlefield ranges; say, give it 3-8 MOA worth of wobble (in the games biz, there'd be a note scribbled in here: playtest this!). Package the lead in a weak jacket and throw it fast enough to fragment, a la M193 ball ammo, and it'd do well, at least in close quarters. Since your rate of fire is effectively doubled, the cyclic rate of the firearm can be backed off so as to make very controllable; since it doesn't need to run at warp speeds, something like the constant-recoil system used by the Ultimax 100 SAW or the AA-12 automatic shotgun would result in very dense saturation for a rifleman. Such firepower could be devastating in close quarters, where the shooter can turn his rifle into a submachine gun with merely a magazine swap. Build the system in a bullpup format and you have a winner.

The problem comes in when one needs to account for every projectile fired; this would definitely be a military expedient, not a civilian law enforcement one. It would only be legit for a free fire zone, unless the users policed simplex and multiplex rounds carefully. Also, this would improve the lowest common denominator at the disbenefit of the skilled operator; for a disciplined and experienced operator of automatic weapons, the extra dispersion could be an unnecessary distraction. I suppose the cyclic rate could be boosted and the system used with simplex rounds only in this instance.

I'm tired, so there's probably a hole in the reasoning. But effectively it's a 'shotgun' approach scaled to 'assault rifle' size.

On Gripping a Pistol.

Or, Sailor Curt wins the Inter Nets. I've read about and watched videos about this grip, and none of it actually stuck until that post.

Friday, September 12, 2008

On Mojo.

When I first started shooting, back when I spent my gun money on guns and not ammo to shoot said guns, I picked up a Mosin-Nagant M38 Carbine at Big 5. Seeing as I lacked a rifle, and the price point on that particular arm was $80 (this rotating between the MN91/30, M38, and M44 rifles; list price being an appalling $179), there was no reason not to. This was all well and good until I got it to the range.

I took my dad that day, and neither of us could get the damn thing to print on the paper. My dad is a pretty good shot (despite the fact that he hadn't shot anything since he left the army in the mid-70s, he printed a 5" group with my CZ52 at 25 meters), so I gathered something was amiss with the rifle. In retrospect, there were three factors that contributed to this mess:

1. Loose stock screws
2. Crappy Hungarian surplus purchased mainly for its price
3. Retrograde sights

Problems 1 and 2 were simple enough to fix; Winchester and HotShot (Prvi Partisan) JSP worked better, but still not 'groups' so much as 'patterns.' The bore was not anywhere near shiny, but there was still conspicuous rifling, and from what I gathered elsewhere on the Inter Nets, a bit of pitting wouldn't completely trash accuracy. That leaves #3, or probable operator error (with this being my *only* rifle experience, I suppose a big boomer like this would encourage the development of a flinch). Meanwhile, I shot a lot of pistol ammo and forgot about rifle shooting after about three attempts. After nearly two years, I decided to give it another whirl, preferably with the gun I already had.

Luckily enough, there was a solution to problem 3, courtesy of Mojo Sighting Systems. Mojo offers drop-in peep sights for a plethora of milsurp rifles - Mausers, K31s, SMLEs, and Nagants, as well as the AK series and the SKS. While one can get the rear aperture sight only, their signature sight is the SnapSight, an 'aperture within aperture.' There's no front sight post to block your target, and I'd imagine a ring is naturally easier to focus on (this theory being based on my experience with enhanced visibility pistol sights). Conspicuously, the price of the sight set (front/rear apertures) is slightly more than the baseline C&R price of a new Mosin...so if the experiment didn't work I could keep the sights, chuck the rifle, and buy a new one.

A nondescript manila envelope arrived about five days after wiring the good folks at Mojo the appropriate scratch. Inside were the sights (wrapped), an installation sheet, front and back, and an allen wrench for the windage and fine elevation adjustment.

The rear sight is a precision engineered and manufactured chunk of steel, finely crafted and asembled. This makes it look completely wrong on the Mosin-Nagant; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was illegal in 17 states and damned my soul to eternal torment. Performance trumps appearance in this case, though, so...

The rear aperture is screw-adjustable for windage. The large wheel on the sight body is click-adjustable, with a fine adjustment in the center, which can also be adjusted with an allen wrench.

Installing the rear sight sounds easier than it ended up being. The instructions merely said to knock out the pin (a 1/8" punch worked fine), remove old sight, press in new sight, and replace pin. Apparently the rear sight is kept in check by one hell of a leaf spring, and even my double-stack-magazine-strengthened thumbs couldn't press the new sight down far enough to knock the retaining pin back in. Eventually, it took two people and a C-clamp. The good news is that it's not going to come out on its own.

I neglected to install the front sight, partially because it would remove the front sight hood (which is even more wrong looking), partially because I wanted to see if the aperture-post set-up worked, and partially because the task required a sight-base file and lots of patience, neither of which I had handy at the time. I smell a follow-up article somewhere in the future.

So it was off to the range. With a freshly-opened tin of the well-regarded Polish silver-tip 147gr light ball ammo, I decided to see if this rifle could indeed shoot.

I'm still pretty sure that Col. Townsend Whelen wouldn't find the M38 interesting, but the results were promising. Namely, it actually shot groups! Not small groups (try 4" at 50 yards and 7" at 100 yards), but that's doubtless my own doing as much as the rifle. The point is, I actually have a baseline to work from now, as opposed to nice big shotgun patterns of 30-caliber holes, courtesy of my wildly broken computer eyes and that wee little rear notch sight. Peep sights rock - you see twice as much target in the picture, which helps immensely.

The 100-yard target was a bucket of suck to shoot, though, if only because this was the first time I'd shot at that range, and the front post covered a good third of the paper, so to get it lined up I had to focus on target, focus on front sight, get picture, focus back on target to confirm alignment, re-focus on front sight and get picture again, and shoot. I was expecting a pattern, and I got a group, so yaay for that, but I can see where the advantage would come with the front aperture. Time to go digging for a file.

Thusly, I left the range with a shoulder made out of bruise and a big grin on my face. Yes, this'll do...though if the balloon goes up, I suspect I may be shunted to the kitchen rather than the front lines.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Peppercorns.

Not all pepper is created equal.

I've never been a ground pepper person, really; it didn't add much flavor, and if I wanted something spicy there was usually a bottle or seven of hot sauce handy. Even fresh-ground Tellicherry pepper didn't do the trick for me.

However, I'm a new believer, courtesy of Penzey's Sarawak Black.

Bright, fruity, intensely spicy; it's actually flavorful, not just...peppery. Goes well with just about everything. Who'da thunk?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wait a minute...

I did a double-take at Big5 today while stocking up on BulkFed (tm) .22. On the rack was a Serbian SKS with what sure as hell looked like a grenade launcher. Google-fu confirms it's merely a muzzle brake, but...

I really want a semi-auto fighting arm, but at four C-bills, that one's probably not following me home.

Monday, September 8, 2008

On Tea.

Or Why Orwell Was Right (Mostly)

Many people (Anyone who's browsed Volk Studio, for starters...) have heard of George Orwell's classic essay, A Nice Cup of Tea. There's a good chance those who have sought that piece out are the choir to which I am preaching. Sixty-two years later, his wisdom is still sound. Nonetheless, I share my method with the hope that someone out there can experience a proper cup of tea.

Americans, by and large, drink coffee first and tea second. I don't mean this as a value judgement, certainly, but it means that good tea is harder to find. Certainly not impossible, though. The internet has many good sources. The brick-and-mortar establishments I most commonly patronize are Peet's and Imperial Tea Court. The former is good for everyday and premium teas; the latter is definitely high-end, ranging from $2/oz for everyday greens up to investment wheels of Pu-Erhs that can hit $45/oz or more. (Apparently, the Chinese treat Pu-Erh blocks like fine wines, with multi-year vintages going for exponentially increasing prices.) Since I still have to buy my own ammo and the former gives me an employee discount, guess where I do the balance of my tea shopping...

Teas fall loosely into a handful of categories, based on their level of oxidation - in ascending order, white/green, oolong, and black/pu-erh. Natural tea leaves are green; for black and oolong teas, the leaf is bruised or torn to bring the natural enzymes to the surface, where they interact with the air. Oolongs vary in level of oxidation, from almost green to almost black. Green teas are not oxidized, but they are processed; the Japanese use a steaming process, while the Chinese use several methods, such as pan-searing for Dragonwells. White tea is a very delicate variety, barely processed. Pu-erh is the polar opposite, a black tea that is pressed into blocks and left to ferment.

Picking a tea is a process that is a great deal of fun on its own, and would require its own volume to properly address. But in brief, for a good, stout, edifying cup, I recommend a solid black tea. Peet's Pride of the Port is damned near perfect as a breakfast-style tea - rich, malty, slightly floral, and with the slightest sparkling astringency. Their Darjeelings are brighter, good afternoon teas, while the Assams are richer and maltier. Indian is definitely the way to go. China blacks are sipping teas, to be sampled carefully, like fine wines. They aren't rocket fuel.

One must have the proper equipment. A good kettle is paramount. Water needs to be brought to a boil or slightly off boil efficiently, the user needs to know unequivocally when that happens, and the design should engender easy pouring. Furthermore, the kettle should only be used for water, for obvious reasons. Brewing and serving vessels should be made of ceramic or glass. These provide good insulation while not retaining flavors. Metal is a weak substitute, even as a drinking vessel; while I'll use a stainless travel mug as required, it doesn't compare to a good teacup. Also needed are a kitchen strainer and a timer. The timer needs to be precise to the minute. If you're really hurting for timing apparatus, I suppose you could use your Pocket Pro and set the par time for five minutes...

Good tea needs good fresh water. Water needs to be oxygenated (i.e. not flat). This seems minor, but makes a surprising difference in the final quality. I am lucky enough to live in a place with good tap water. Running the tap briefly purges any flat water standing in the plumbing. Any water that has been heated before, such as leftover water in the kettle, is definitely flat and should be tossed. I have no experience with purification systems such as Brita or using bottled water. They would doubtless be a distinct improvement on foul-tasting tap water, where experienced.

Black teas and pu-erhs need a full, rolling boil for maximum extraction. Greens, and especially whites, are a great deal more delicate, and will actually burn with boiling water, dulling the subtler flavors. Greens usually work best at 180 degrees, and whites down around 150-160.

There are a number of methods for steeping loose leaves. The most widespread, especially in the commonwealth countries, seems to be the 'leaves in the pot' method, whereby the tea is steeped directly in the serving vessel, and strained when it is poured to the teacup. It's not my favorite, simply because I prefer a bit more precision with regards to steep time, but it does the job, especially with stout blacks. A traditional method favored by the Chinese is the Gaiwan, which is a cup with a fitted lid. The tea steeps in the cup, and the user drinks straight from it, using the lid as a strainer. For sampling smaller quantities, especially of more delicate teas, the Gaiwan does good work. Commonly encountered are various 'spoons,' 'tea-balls,' and other devices made of slotted metal or mesh and designed to be dipped in the water. These are sub-optimal, because they are far too cramped for good blooming.

Tea needs room to move around when it is steeping. In fact, one indication of proper water temperature is that the tea is moving around in the steeping vessel. Without room, the resulting brew is going to be much less complex. Teabags produce functional but hardly edifying liquor for this very reason; they are by nature far too cramped. (Some manufacturers have produced high-end teabags that seek to rectify this problem.) When browsing tea-making apparatus, keep this in mind. If it has a removable basket or filter, does it restrict the tea to a small percentage of the volume of the vessel, or does it use the full space? There are plenty of devices in both categories.

I learned from a young age to skip the fancy devices and just use a measuring cup. Pyrex beats plastic every time. Glass doesn't retain flavors, and it keeps the heat in. The tea will not infuse fully if the temperature drops during steeping; this is especially true with blacks. The often-skipped step of pre-heating the brewing vessel ensures that cold glass or ceramic will not leech the heat out of the tea too soon. An instant hot water tap is a great way to cheat here, but absent that simply boiling a half-cup of water before starting on the tea will work fine. I throw a plate over the measuring cup; water vapor rising off the tea will pull out a great deal of heat.

I usually toss the pre-heating water from the brewing vessel into the teapot to warm it up. After the prescribed time (usually five minutes for blacks), remove pre-heat water, strain, pour, and enjoy. A batch will remain really fresh and sparkling for 10-20 minutes.

This process seems to work fine from one to six cups. I make two at a time, which is as much as I can drink leisurely in the optimal freshness window.

In summary:
1. Fresh water.
2. Pre-heat steeping vessel and pot.
3. Boil water. (or off-boil, for greens.)
4. Steep tea (5 mins).
5. Strain tea.
6. Drink.

Good black leaves can be re-steeped once. The second batch will not be as strong, or as complex. However, caffeine is very water-soluble, and nearly all is steeped out of the leaves in 30 seconds, so the second batch is decaffeinated. In fact, to make any tea decaf, steep the leaves for 30 seconds, discard the liquor, pour fresh boiling water, and steep for the normal time.

The first cup of a fresh batch of good black tea needs to be experienced by every man, woman, and child on this earth at least once. Beyond a modest equipment outlay, the price of leaves is infinitesimal compared to, say, beer, wine, or spirits - one ounce of tea can give you several cups of tea, at pennies a cup, and it's the best way to start a day, or as an accompaniment to one's daily activities.

On Case Failure.

It took me a year and half, but I finally had a case fail. More specifically, a rather dramatic split neck. It wasn't the disgustingly grimy Webley brass that's been loaded 7+ times without annealing (twice with Goex Pinnacle FFFg, no less), nor the S&B I bulk-ordered the day I brought the P226 home last November and have been reloading ever since. (Fairly stiff brass, and primer pockets two sizes too small, but it seems to work. So much for the warnings, I guess...) Nay, the offender was once-fired police nickel-plated brass that started a bit too ovoid, re-sized OK, but I'm guessing doesn't like being worked that much.

So nickel does fail earlier, and partially squished cases aren't necessarily salvageable. Good to know...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On Duvel.

"Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." - Benjamin Franklin

And Duvel makes me me very happy indeed. The Belgians are known for thick, heavy, intense beers, and this is the crown prince of thick, heavy, intense beers. An immediate caramel sweetness gives way to a powerful dose of hops, a sourness that becomes a pleasant, lingering bitterness.

The first time I had Duvel was in a bar in Hue, Vietnam, decorated with Tintin prints and run by a Belgian ex-pat with good taste in beer. After my traveling companion and I had been loosened up with a Huda (Hue's local brew) and some Hoegaarden, the Belgian pulled out two bottles of the good stuff. "You have to try this," he said, "but promise me you'll drink it slowly." Hardly necessary; it's far too intense to quaff.

Ironically, perhaps, one peculiarly Vietnamese tradition is that of Bia Hoi, very thin and watery lager that is brewed up by tiny storefront breweries and sold for something like $.50 a liter. It's fun to share with friends - I spent July 4, 2007, in the company of about 20 Aussies and a metric fuck-ton of Bia Hoi - but the beer is not the reason, merely the excuse.

On Pr0n.

Gun Pr0n, at any rate. Vintage.

Courtesy of Dr Strangegun's archives.

On Rule 3, Continued.

IM Transcript ahoy:

[23:54] [redacted]: which one is rule 3? I Google image searched "rule 34" and let me tell you... that sure is something

On Rule 1.

Three hours after I got home, it occurred to me that "All firearms are loaded" is a declarative statement designed to ensure that people treat guns with respect, not an assurance that a particular firearm is in fact loaded. Pity, that'd be a great logic hole by which to spawn new ammunition. Unload a gun, hide it somewhere, come back...it's loaded. Where'd that come from? Beats me, but all guns are loaded. It also reminded me that I should probably chamber-check the SIG.