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Monday, March 27, 2017

Erin's Perfect Prepper Vehicle

Blue Collar Prepping has a theme week going on: "What one vehicle would you choose if price were no object?"  And in proper Erin Palette style, I pick a car that identifies as... something else.

Go take a look!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #136 - Vault 7 Sorcery, REEEEing Ted Cruz, and Perfidious Senators

"To Wikileak" is apparently a verb now.
  • How can you run afoul of the TSA? Beth counts the ways.
  • Who is so bad that even his Mom turns on him? Sean looks at the crime, and the criminal, to find the answer.
  • Barron is back, and he brought a Sorcerer to talk about the Wikileaked Vault 7.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin remind people that they don't own the culture. Ted Cruz is allowed to be a geek too.
  • Tiffany screamed herself almost hoarse at the 19th annual Tactical Conference, and she's back to tell us about it.
  • Sure, you have a blowout kit on your belt, but what about for traumatic injury at home? Erin tells you what to put inside your at-home kit.
  • You've heard of the NRA A-rated politician from Florida who turned her back on gun owners? Weer'd puts her interview through a Patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™.
  • And our plug of the week is Mike Leon's book Rated R (The Postmodern Adventures of Kill Team One Book 1)
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
The At-Home Trauma Kit
Last week, Sean talked about the SFD Responder, an ankle holster for carrying a tourniquet, bandage and similar traumatic injury gear... and that’s great as far as a portable solution goes, but if you’re a prepper then you also need to be prepared for traumatic injury at home as well, such as a burn or knife wound from cooking meals, or an injury from power tools or yardwork, or even an animal bite if you have pets. 

Now the good thing about having a prep like this at home is that you have the advantage of being at home. This means you don’t have to worry about portability, because you aren’t carrying it with you; all you need to do is be able to grab your gear from wherever you have it. 

For most people, this will be near the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, next to where they keep their band-aids and pain medication. I call this my booboo kit, and I did a segment on it way back in episode 38. However, the bathroom may not be the best place to keep such things; if you have a large family, there’s a good chance that someone will be in the bathroom when you need to get to the trauma supplies, and the heat and humidity from baths and showers can reduce the life of medicines and supplies. 

Wherever you choose to put it, make sure it’s in an easily-accessed central location and that everyone knows where it is, what’s in it, and how to use it. What’s NOT in it is also important; since this is something I’m going to grab in a life or death emergency, I’m not going to stuff it with bandaids for booboos. If I need one of those, I can get them from the bathroom or first aid kit; this is for serious injuries. 

The three most important things I have in my kit are a tourniquet, and Israeli bandage, and a Trauma Pak from Adventure Medical. I love this pak, as it’s small enough to fit into a cargo pocket but is filled with good things like Quick Clot, nitrile gloves, duct tape, a triangular bandage and a LOT of gauze. With all that, I can handle most any injury. 

Also nearby is something called the iSHWASH Personal Eyewash System, which is an eye rinse unit that can be attached to a bottle of water and then squeezed to produce a shower effect. This is great for preventing blinding in case a harsh chemical gets in someone’s eyes, but also works as a way to wash out painful particles like dust, ash, pollen, etc that may be causing irritation. To make mine more useful, I actually bundled the iSWASH with an unopened bottle of water inside a large ziploc bag for fast access; see the picture in the show notes. 

Other things that would be useful to have in an emergency are bandage shears, in case you need to cut clothing off someone to reach a wound; a pen light with a pupil gauge to check someone’s responsiveness; and a head lamp in case you have to use this when the power’s out and you need both hands to help the injured party

Now I keep all of my stuff inside an airtight, waterproof box with a carry handle. Not only does this protect my supplies from water, pests, dust and the like, but because it has a carry handle I can grab it easily and take it wherever I need it, including out of the house if necessary.  

Now these suggestions are just for making do until the ambulance shows up; in a later episode I’ll talk about what long-term supplies you will need - mainly books - in case paramedics no longer arrive or hospitals no longer exist. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Operation Blazing Sword Storefront

For everyone who said that they wanted Blazing Sword t-shirts, I am pleased to announce that we have an online print-on-demand storefront up and running.

And it's not just t-shirts! We have lots of other formats as well.

There's also a horizontal banner that you can download from our Google Docs folder. The PNG is scaleable up to 10 feet in width, so anyone who wants to have one for promotional purposes -- such as a table covering at events like gun shows, conventions, shooting ranges, and the like -- can take the file to a professional printer, specify what size they want, and the printer can size it accordingly. If folks need something larger, the .AI file will go as large as you need, even up to billboard width or height.
Legal Disclaimer: You are free to use the Operation Blazing Sword logo so long as you do not profit from doing so. All funds that exceed expenses must be donated to Operation Blazing Sword. 
Buy yours today! From now until September, all proceeds from sales of branded apparel and accessories will be used in our $10K for 2A drive. So buy some stuff, support pro-Second Amendment nonprofits, and help embarrass Sean Sorrentino at Gun Rights Policy Conference 2017!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda - Thoughts and Impressions

How do I start this without feeling guilty?

I've previously spoken at length about my relationship with Bioware, specifically the Mass Effect series. I'd sworn off them after Mass Effect 3, being dissatisfied with the ending, monetization, and other aspects of the way the story and game were handled. I then made an off-hand comment about a drunken tryst with Mass Effect 4 when it hit $5.

Well, technically speaking, it did. Or, rather, with the EA Access program, I forked out the $5 necessary to start the program and get the 10 hour trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda. There's been a lot of controversy surrounding this game so far, as the preview build and promotional gameplay has been met with a less than stellar reception. There's been a drastic shift in gameplay, which is good, but there's also been an alarming drop in quality when it comes to the character models and facial animations, which is not good.

The game, if you'll allow me to get technical for a moment, is built on the Frostbite engine, which powers many of EA's current games from Dead Space 3 to Star Wars Battlefront to Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. For all I may complain about EA, the Frostbite engine is a work of art, and renders some amazingly good-looking games... but Mass Effect: Andromeda, from what I've seen so far, is not one of them.

One of the things Frostbite does best is lighting, and Andromeda falls flat in that area. Literally -- the lighting is extremely flat, as if you compared a low-budget television soap opera to a JJ Abrams film. Andromeda looks like the former when you compare it to the excellent lighting and shadows in something like Dead Space 3. The facial models on the default character are cartoonishly exaggerated, and the NPCs are largely bland and generic looking. Characters will tell you grave situations and tragic tales without even a twitch in their facial expressions, and moments later your character will have the most bizarre expressions on their face. Considering the 4-5 years of development, it's like the series is moving backwards instead of improving in these areas.

Gameplay suffers from some pretty terrible bugs as well. In the limited time I had in the campaign (the 10 hour trial cuts you short and returns you to the main menu partway through a story mission on the first planet you land on with a prompt to purchase the game),
  • I got stuck in the terrain 4 times;
  • I experienced pop-in (which is when an NPC spawns in the area you're standing) in a very jarring manner, with NPCs hitting a t-pose before dropping into their programmed space; and
  • I experienced lots of clipping issues (where a character model will phase through a solid object). 
As for the style, it plays very much like Dragon Age Inquisition, which did not have these issues to any noticeable degree, nor did it have such problems with bland and poorly-animated faces.

There are some positives. The game has an interesting premise: a group aware of the Reaper threat in the original series constructed ark ships carrying tens of thousands of varying species of Milky Way residents to the Andromeda galaxy with plans of colonization. Something goes wrong, and only the human Ark makes it, linking up with the Nexus station that was sent ahead to coordinate immigration, and the "golden worlds" turn out to be not quite so golden. Your character, either Scott or Sarah Ryder (name changeable in character customization) is thrust into a position of authority they aren't necessarily ready for, and it's your job to scout for new worlds and ready them for colonization.

When it's not bugging out, the traversal and combat mechanics are quite good. You're far more agile and quick then previous games, and combat no longer has you hugging walls as often as the cover system has been modified and jump/boost jets have been added. Some of the characters are quite likeable so far... and some aren't. Cora, your second in command (the internet is furious that she isn't gay because of her haircut) has excellent voice acting and dialogue, and Vestra, the Turian who joins your squad on the first planetary expedition, is a charming rogue (against stereotype for the Turian race, but she's still no Garrus). The character creator is decent, and allows for a lot of variation in your version of Ryder (mine pictured below).
Justine Ryder, totally out of her depth
A tip from me: if you want to cut down on the goofy facial animations, make your character's lower facial features at least 50% smaller than the default Ryder's.

I will whole-heartedly endorse the multiplayer. Much like Mass Effect 3, it's a horde-mode layout, where you fight off waves of enemies interspersed with simple objectives, and you can play any one of a number of classes of characters from Engineers to Space Wizards (biotics). It's been trimmed from 10 waves + extraction to 7 waves including extraction which quickens the pace; this along with the improved movement and agility of your characters makes for a much more fast-paced and frenetic experience. I played the last game's multiplayer for an obscene number of hours, and can easily see myself playing this one's multiplayer as much, especially since it's also been incorporated into the story campaign as Strike Teams that you can access from the Nexus station. I had plenty of time to experience it, what with the campaign ending prematurely and I still had over half of the time left in my 10 hour trial.  If I'm completely honest, the multiplayer alone has probably raised my asking price of this game from $20 to $30.

All in all, what I'm seeing so far is a technically embarrassing game with an ambitious premise and a really solid multiplayer. It's basically an incompetently-coded Dragon Age Inquisition wrapped in a sci-fi skin, and I know why: the studio that actually developed this game is Bioware Montreal, which didn't exist until 2009, and only had previous experience assisting in the development of Mass Effect 3. It was Biowares Edmonton and Austin that did the heavy lifting on all of Bioware's previous (and good) games.

This is one of EA's flagship franchises, and it was handed to an untested, inexperienced studio that took a fantastic game engine and made a complete shambles of it. It's also receiving backlash on all sides, ranging from Cora's haircut-based sexuality to a trans character dead-naming themselves in their first conversation with you to their lead facial animator allegedly being a cosplayer with no prior experience, Andromeda's losing the PR campaign harder than someone trying to speed-run Mass Effect 2 (sorry, let me explain - if you don't take your time and prepare properly by doing loyalty missions, you lose crew members and could possibly die yourself during the final mission).

Should you buy this? No, not at this time. If the multiplayer has the legs that the previous game had, a year from now a ton of people will still be playing it, and it's absolutely not worth the $60 price tag they're asking now. Wait for a) a major patch and b) a sale. In the meantime, enjoy the plethora of comedy that's been spawned by it.


Edit: Bioware has announced a patch, but sounds very unsure about how to approach the much-derided facial animations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Legally Dead in Low Passage

In my Traveller game, anyone who is cryogenically frozen is considered legally dead under Imperial law for the duration of their freeze. There are several good reasons for this, mainly to to preserve financial institutions and help enforce criminal law.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Let us assume that you are a member of the Imperial Navy or Scouts, and your ship is critcally damaged. You send out a distress signal, set the power plant to run as long as possible while using as little fuel as possible, and crawl into a low berth to await rescue. Unfortunately, due to the vastness of the Imperium and the speed of light, you aren't rescued for a century. When you are rescued, you petition for 100 years of back pay, along with everyone else on your ship who survives. After all, you were in the service when you went into cryostasis, and you're still in the service when you wake up. It wasn't your fault that your century of service was spent in suspended animation, but the fact remains that you've lost time that could have been spent with family and friends, so you're due compensation. And with a century of back pay, you can retire from the service and never have to work again. Or perhaps you'll go into politics, funded by this handy war chest.

Well, no. The Imperium is a conservative society, and the entrenched nobility really doesn't like the idea of ships full of fresh, eager bodies becoming instantly rich through an accident. They also don't like the idea of someone with just enough income to rent a cold berth for a few decades to make some investments and then go to sleep, hopefully waking up with millions in stock options. (This would be akin to buying stock in Apple, Microsoft and Nike in the 1980s and then waking up today.)

No, when you are in cryostasis you are effectively dead, and so all forms of income revert to your next of kin and/or stop paying out (in the case of salaries and pensions). There is a bit of legal "wiggle room" built into the concept of low passage, in that such passage usually only takes between a week and a month, and the amount of paperwork to declare a passenger dead, only to then declare them alive again after they've arrived, is considerable and annoying. Therefore, most corporations have a 30 day "grace period" before they begin the paperwork. This can lead to inventive investors doing things like entering cold sleep for 3 weeks before being thawed out for one week in an attempt to extend their lives cheaply. However, this is known as financial fraud and is frowned upon by the authorities.
Sidebar: Financial Trusts
Someone will inevitably ask "Why don't people just create a trust to receive the finances, with the person in coldsleep being the beneficiary of the trust? This is a good question, and while there are probably loopholes to be exploited here due to my ignorance regarding finance law, there are two broad provisions which make this a less than ideal solution for the miserly

First, if it's a familial trust, then other people will have access to those funds while you are asleep. How much do you trust your kin? Because this is a great way to wake up suddenly poor.

Second, if it's just you in the trust, then someone needs to be managing it while you're legally dead. Someone like a financial adviser. Someone who knows how your money works, and for how long you're going to be asleep, and how to embezzle and hide funds.. or, alternately, someone who controls the payment to the people who are keeping you in cold sleep.

Remember, if you're obsessed with money, you're obsessed with keeping it and you're obsessed with making sure people don't take it away from you, so distrust (if not outright paranoia) is part of the package.
Criminal Law
When crimes are too severe for a fine, but not so severe that the demand death, the traditional punishment is either imprisonment or involuntary servitude. In effect, these sentences are saying "We are taking years away from you as punishment for what you took away from others." Invariably, some felons with rich friends or political connections would seek to do their time in cold sleep, thereby evading the actual physical punishment of the sentence. However, you cannot make a corpse do time, so under this rule the timer on the prison sentence is put on pause until such time as the prisoner comes out of stasis.

Interestingly enough, though. time spent in cold sleep does count towards the statute of limitations on crimes. This is because the statute of limitation applies to the crime, not to the person, and it's generally believed that if you were willing to lose that portion of the lives of your loved ones to avoid doing time, you've already paid your sentence. It's also worth pointing out that the most heinous crimes (rape, murder, slavery, genocide, treason, etc) have no statute of limitations to them.

Passage Between Star Systems
This is where the law sees the most use, and the reasoning for that is fairly straightforward.

Revivification Liability: If you're legally dead in low passage, then the ship's doctor who fails to revive you is not legally liable for any medical negligence. In fact, part of the act of purchasing a low passage ticket is signing a waiver saying "I acknowledge that I will be dead for the duration of my low passage."

Effectively Cargo: There are specific laws against treating sapient beings like cargo, most of which are anti-slavery in nature. If low passengers are dead, then they are legally cargo, and as such can be (and often are) stacked like cordwood, don't require as many crew to look after them, etc.

Abandoning Ship: There are also Imperial regulations for live passengers in the event of an emergency, such as "There must be enough escape pods or rescue balls for all of them" and "All passengers must be taken off the ship before the crew can abandon it." It would be ridiculous to demand escape pods for people already frozen, and lethal to everyone if they had to be defrosted before abandoning ship. Since they are considered cargo, they may be abandoned with impunity.

This is not quite as monstrous as it sounds, however; remember that emergency low berths exist as a method for crew members to await rescue. This means that a low passage berth is, effectively, its own non-mobile escape pod and requires only a trickle of power. Therefore, unless the ship was catastrophically lost (exploded, crashed, fell into a gas giant, etc), both the Imperium and any corporate entity under which the ship the flying will make good-faith efforts to locate and revive passengers and crew in cold sleep.

But what about the Frozen Watch?
Good question. I have three possible solutions:
  1. The Frozen Watch is a form of non-judicial punishment that is assigned to crewmembers. This is especially useful if the ship doesn't have room for a brig. Loss of pay is also a time-honored form of NJP which dovetails nicely with not drawing a salary while being legally dead.
  2. Crewmembers can also volunteer for the Frozen Watch, usually as a means of earning extra points towards promotion, or as a way of being RIFed out, or to avoid a worse assignment while waiting for a vacancy in a school or aboard a desired ship. In this case, the volunteer is presented with what is essentially a "signing bonus" that is equal or greater than the pay he'd miss. Given that most volunteers for the Watch are either junior officers or non-senior NCOs, the long-term effects of being declared legally dead for up to a year are minimal. 
  3. In the absence of personnel from 1 and 2, time in the watch can be considered just part of regular service. It's a crap assignment that no one wants (and again, no one with seniority has to spend time in "the cold barrel"), but everyone has to perform  as part of paying their dues. In this case, time in the watch is probably around a week, and the Navy just never files the legally dead paperwork because of the aforementioned administrative hassle -- essentially, "What happens aboard ship, stays aboard ship."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thank You For Not Squeezing the Toothpaste

One thing I've noticed about myself is that whenever I talk about being transgender in situations where the topic is not specifically on the table (such as when I was a guest speaker for MSI), I reflexively apologize for bringing it up.

My thinking goes something like this: The topic of transgenderism makes people uncomfortable and I don't want to make them uncomfortable, especially when they didn't bring the subject up... but I have a really important and relevant point to address regarding the subject, so I'm going to preemptively apologize for making them feel uncomfortable.

I'm not sure that this is a socially healthy thing for me to do because 1) it makes it seem like being trans is something rude or socially unacceptable or otherwise not subject matter for polite conversation, and 2) it reinforces a feeling, however unconsciously, that I need to apologize for being who I am.

I don't want to constantly apologize for being me. I don't need to apologize for being me, because I am neither picking their pocket nor breaking their leg, and like I said the other day I have every right to be me and don't need to beg permission for it. However, neither do I want to be obnoxious about my trans nature, waving it people's face and bringing it up in every conversation like the stereotypical vegan crossfitter who announces it to everyone.

In fact, this whole "I am trans" is basically a necessary evil to me. I'd prefer just to drop the "trans" thing entirely and just be "woman", but before that can happen society has to stop seeing gender transition as something shocking, salacious and scandalous. While transition will never achieve the same level of non-event as changing your hairstyle or wardrobe (at least not within my lifetime), I'd be happy if it was regarded with the same lack of fuss as, say giving birth: a routine procedure that is a joyous event for family members and regarded as perfectly mundane by the rest of the world. 

Sadly, the world is not at that state right now, as shown by the recent "OMG we cannot let trans people pee in the same restroom as regular people, because who knows what kind of deviance they might perpetrate, so let's institute genital checks at the door" nonsense and other legislation that singles us out as freaks. 

So I bring it up in conversation when it's relevant in order to educate people. It's not a "Hey, I'm trans, applaud me!" thing, it's a "This is a teachable moment, let's see if I can help people understand" thing. And yet, I still end up apologizing, because I don't want to be that person. I've been told that the way around this is to thank people in advance for their understanding rather than to apologize, because that sets a positive tone which makes people more inclined to listen. 

With that in mind, then, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to make a point about LGBTQ rights and how they can be used to help the cause of lawful concealed carry. 

You may have heard about how Gays Against Guns (GAG -- isn't that precious?) has spoken against the National Reciprocity bill by saying “Federal reciprocity is a direct violation of an individual state’s rights to constitutionally protect its citizens." They then followed it up with a video (which I won't link but can be seen at this article) unironically titled "Reciprocity Is An Atrocity."
Refresh my memory: didn't some churches also not want to perform same-sex marriages?
I find this is a curious position for any LGBTQ group to adopt, because do you know what else certain states banned but were forced to accept through the route of national reciprocity? Why, that would be same-sex marriage licenses. I imagine if that was up for referendum again, suddenly -- magically! -- GAG would be completely against state's rights and completely for federal reciprocity. 

So the next time you see GAG or George Takei or anyone else saying reciprocity should be abolished, tell them that they're campaigning for a law that will set a precedent for their marriages not to be recognized nationwide, and ask them if they really want to squeeze that metaphorical tube of toothpaste. 

Thank you for allowing me this teachable moment!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #135 - The Spotlight Effect

I love the thrill
In the white light
  • What's it like to be a woman in the firearms industry? Beth tells us about how she has to prove herself every day. 
  • A fire, a fire extinguisher, and a knife are the what; Sean takes a closer look at the who. 
  • Barron is on assignment and will return soon. 
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin talk about getting over that feeling that EVERYONE is watching you as you learn to carry concealed. 
  • Tiffany is on assignment and will return next week. 
  • We know there's no reason to read them, but Erin says that newspapers actually still have uses. 
  • He's half of the "Armed with Reason" duo, and as Weer'd will show, he's not any more intelligent or reasonable in audio form than he is in print. 
  • And our plug of the week is the Striker Control Device, aka the Glock Gadget. 
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
The Many Uses of Newspaper
Newspapers just aren’t taken as seriously as they once were. Between lack of readers, cost of production, and the 24/7 news cycle which is better suited to online reporting, actual newsprint is going the way of the dodo. But that doesn’t mean newspapers aren’t of use to preppers -- quite the opposite! The prepping value of a newspaper, though, is in its material and not what the rag says. 

There’s an old joke from the middle of last century which says that certain papers are only good for lining birdcages, wrapping fish, and toilet-training dogs -- and these are all good uses for the material. Newspaper is made from wood pulp, which is very absorbent, so depending on the cleanliness of the paper you can use it as an impromptu towel for drying off, or for wiping up spills, or even as field-expedient toilet paper.

But one of the best uses for old newspaper is for drying out wet shoes. Stuff them with crumpled up newspaper and leave them overnight, and in the morning the moisture will have moved from your shoes to the paper. This is a great trick to know if you’ve gotten wet and can’t start a fire.

Speaking of starting a fire, it ought to be obvious to everyone that newspapers make great firestarters. Finely-shredded bits of newspaper can serve as tinder; thin strips can serve as kindling; and rolled-up papers can even serve as fuel, if you have enough of them. Just be aware that newspaper doesn’t have much in the way of energy density; it burns quickly, unlike a log.

But newspaper can keep you warm in other ways. If you crumple it up and stick it under your clothes, it can act as insulation by trapping warm air next to your body. If you’re settling down for the night, you can further protect yourself against the elements by putting a layer underneath you to insulate you against the cold ground and absorb any moisture, and then a layer on top of you like a blanket to trap more heat and protect you from the wind, rain, and snow.  (Side note: If you’re out in the woods, you can achieve the same effect with dry leaves). You can also use newspaper to keep your home warm by wadding it into nooks and crannies and creating insulation, or taping it over windows to prevent drafts.

And finally, you can use newspaper to create a weapon. I know this sounds crazy, but apparently soccer hooligans in the UK were bringing newspapers to games and using them to create improvised clubs called “Millwall Bricks”. Watch the video in the show notes, and you’ll see that with some rolled and folded newspaper, a rock, and some taper, you can transform trash into a tomahawk that is capable of splitting a gallon milk container and denting a 55 gallon drum.

There are many things you can do with newspaper once you realize that it is, essentially, a very thin sheet of wood. While newspapers themselves may soon become obsolete, for as long as newsprint exists, there will be many uses for the material.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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