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Friday, December 30, 2016

My Firefly Dream


Gorrammit! I had a dream about Firefly and I woke up before it ended!

What's that? You want to know what I dreamed? Well, all right...
Cue plaintive guitar riff...

It opened with shot of one of the scrubby towns that populate the Firefly 'verse, with a subtitle that this world was called Ozark.

The camera panned to a bunch of townfolk shouting "They're back! The strangers are back! They must have returned for the gold they buried!" and then hustling off out of town in the direction of what was, presumably, the location of the gold.

As they scuttle off, we see that there was a little redheaded girl in pigtails, no older than 13, listening intently to the group of men. After they leave, she looks around to make sure no one is watching her, and she gets on her bicycle and goes the other way.

(What's cool about this bicycle is that there's a second chain from the rear tire to a spinning rod -- basically a horizontally-mounted drop spindle -- that is spinning or winding yarn out of a collection of fiber located in a basket over the rear wheel. My thought in the dream was literally "Oh, cool! As the kids ride their bikes, they're spinning wool into yarn! What a neat and totally Firefly-esque way of doing things!")

So the little girl -- who wasn't named in my dream but who I'm calling Jessie because she reminded me of the Toy Story character -- pedals to a warehouse-like building at the edge of town and sneaks inside. She makes her way through a collection of rusting farm equipment, and it's obvious she's looking for something... or someone. Her eyes widen as she sees (but we don't) what she's looking for, and there's the sound of activity ahead. She creeps towards one of the pieces of heavy equipment which is now sputtering into life and trying to idle, like it hasn't been run in a long time.

As Jessie gets next to this thing -- which looks like some kind of backhoe-forklift thing -- it begins shuddering violently before breaking down in a violent self-disassembly. She screams, covers her face with her arms, and everything goes black as the working arm falls toward her.

(This is probably where the title sequence would go.)


Can you believe that the opening credits for Firefly cannot be found on YouTube? 
I blame Fox. Anyway, this is the best I could do -- and it's nifty besides. 

Jessie wakes up with Simon tending her and saying things like "She'll be all right. It's just a mild concussion, I'd like to keep an eye on her for a few days, though," to a very agitated and rather guilty-looking Wash. Based on the state of his clothes and the grease stains, it's apparent he was trying to fix the fork-hoe and didn't do a good job. Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee come back from somewhere (I get the idea they were scouting -- Mal as brains, Jayne as backup and Kaylee as "You're the engineer, what kind of tools are we gonna need to do this?" -- and see Jessie waking up. Kaylee immediately goes to fuss over her, Mal has an expression of "WTF is she doing here?", and in proper style, Jayne goes over to the makeshift kitchen and starting making a sandwich for himself.

Then there's some dialog that I couldn't quite follow. I got the impression that this was either a sequel to an earlier episode, or this was referencing events that happened to the crew before the TV series. Anyway, what I pieced together was that the crew had been to Ozark before, and that they'd stolen a shipment of gold ore from the local mine, and that they'd used Jessie in their heist as "local kid who knows what's going on and can be our eyes and ears", and that something had gone wrong during the heist and that they'd ditched the train car full of gold in some really bad location (like, off a cliff and into a river-filled ravine bad) before leaving.

When Jessie comes to her senses, she is pissed -- at the fact that the crew left without saying goodbye! (And without giving her her share of the take.) Still rattled, she reaches into her overalls and pulls out a small lunch to eat on the counter. River helpfully points out Jayne's fixings and says "These potatoes are rust-flavored." Jayne replies, with a mouth full of sandwich, "Hey now, let's respect our guest's bad decisions." Obviously he didn't want to share his potato chips.

There's more discussion as Mal asks Jessie what's happened to her in the years since he'd seen her. She mentions that times are even harder for her folks since the last time the crew was on Ozark, and that she'd had to take a job at the local horsehouse.

"Whorehouse?" Mal asks, with murderous intensity in his eyes. "A little [Chinese word] like you? I'll kill whoever put you there." Jessie rolls her eyes. 

"No, no. HORSE house. It's like a hotel for horses. I'm the stable girl there." 

Mal has a kind of "Oh. Well. My bad" expression on his face, there's kind of a musical "womp-wooomp" as Kaylee and Simon look at him whimsically like "Oh look, we caught the big bad captain acting human for a moment and now he's embarrassed"...

... and then I woke up. 青蛙操的流氓!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

One year. One whole year.

That's the longest we've been without a new episode of Doctor Who since the wilderness years, measured from the time that Ace and the Seventh Doctor strolled off into a field at the end of Survival until the time the Ninth Doctor told Rose to "Run for your life!" (with only the terrible story featuring the excellent performance of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor breaking up the dry spell)

Was it worth the wait? In a word, yes, and much more so than I thought it would be.

From the trailers, I was concerned. The appearance of a super-hero in Doctor Who seems like a failed premise that would hold nothing but failed comedy, but the end product turned out to be anything but. This may be the first Christmas episode that ties directly into a previous one:  the events of the Doctor's personal timeline happen after the 24-year night spent with River in The Husbands of River Song; the return of Nardole, whose head was restored to his body; and the return of head-splitting villains Shoal of the Winter Harmony, now calling themselves the Harmony Shoal Institute.

I don't normally like Matt Lucas, and I still think he looks silly, but his character's been reigned in a bit and I don't think I'll mind him tagging along for a bit longer. He's proving to be a therapeutic influence after the Doctor's loss, knowing when to back off and when to call him out.
Always bring snacks when intruding.
(A fun bit of trivia: when Peter Capaldi was BBC Radio, he said that he'd learned while in Mexico that they call the show "Doctor Mysterio" and people would shout that to him when he'd visited.)

Much like with of Amy Pond and Ashildr, the Doctor seems to be showing duty of care by coming back to look after those whose lives he affected at a young age. It smacks of the guilt he feels in failing in his duty of care towards Clara, despite the superhuman efforts he put forward in so doing. He still can't read human age quite well, first estimating the 8-year-old Grant to be in his 30s, and visiting him at points throughout his life to check in on him and make sure he's behaving responsibly with his powers.

The Ghost didn't quite manage to steal the show from Capaldi -- short of Michelle Gomez, there aren't many who could -- but he was still passable as a proper superhero with the powers of Superman, the brooding of Batman, and the social awkwardness of a very insecure man unable to express his love for a childhood friend.

Lucy, our Lois Lane stand-in (I daresay she's a better Lois Lane than Amy Adams), was very quick. She's smart, determined, and has good instincts. "This is Mister Huffle. He feels pain." wouldn't work on everyone, but it worked on The Doctor.
UNIT shortly afterwards had Mister Huffle banned under the Geneva Conventions.
The villains of last year get some excellent fleshing out, with the very menacing German host Dr. Sim (best German Christmas villain since Hans Gruber?),  and the charismatic CEO Mr. Brock. The splitting head effect is still unnerving, especially when Mr. Brock's eyes move while his head is split open.

On a technical side, the episode holds up very well, packed full of little details both subtle and glaring:
  • Twelve falling into his own trap, setting up the entire story. 
  • Actual real-world comics (from both Marvel *and* DC) appearing in young Grant's bedroom. 
  • Twelve's bafflement over no one realizing Clark Kent is Superman. 
  • Literally quoting Uncle Ben's "great responsibility" speech to Grant. 
  • The Ghost criticizing the political bias of Fletcher's newspaper. 
  • Harmony Shoal being possibly another way of saying "Melody Pond" or "River Song."
  • Grant's attempt to unmask himself referencing the 1989 Batman movie, where Michael Keaton repeatedly attempts to tell Vicki Vale that he's Batman, unsuccessfully. 
  • Mr. Brock's assistants being Shuster and Siegel, the names of the co-creators of Superman.
That's a pretty good-looking super-suit.
The special effects aren't quite MCU-level superheroics, but they're definitely passable for TV drama, at least on par with the CW family of shows. Even the American accents of the characters were passable -- with the exception of the Canadian actor playing Grant, who still sounds Canadian, and Lucy Fletcher and Mister Brock sounded pretty natural.

There's a recurring musical cue as well that's very, VERY old-school: the 80s synth riff that would be at home anywhere between Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy's era. I remember first hearing hints of it back in Robot of Sherwood, and there's some very memorable heroic themes at work here, which have proven effective in both the Marvel movies and DC shows.

I've missed Peter Capaldi, really I have. This episode provides a vast array of him, from the irreverent moments (eating sushi while intruding in the evil lair), to the manic (absently answering a child's questions while setting a trap for temporal anomalies), to the said, quiet moments ("Things end" and unbuttoning his shirt alone in the console room). But at the end of Hell Bent, he promised to Clara to "Be a Doctor" again, and he's back in full force, velvety coat and new screwdriver, and it feels good to see him again.

As for the preview for the next series... I'm not sold on Bill yet, but if handled properly, she has the potential to be the next Donna. She seems a bit annoying and gobby, asking a lot of dumb questions; but then, so did Donna at the beginning. By the end of Donna's run, though, we had a fleshed-out character who had grown and matured (and what a shame that it was ruined by her departure. I'll never forgive you for that, RTD). Nardole also seems to be sticking around for at least a few more episodes, which will lend an interesting dynamic in the TARDIS, and Capaldi is delivering lines with serious gusto. Despite any reservations, I'm looking forward to the series returning properly and in full after it's year's rest.

All in all, I'd say that this is the best Christmas special yet. Not that this was a particularly high bar to cross, as the Christmas specials tend towards being outrageous and silly, packing in killer Christmas trees, robot Santas, silly giant headless robots, and the like. It's up there with Clara's second appearance, which was a genuinely good episode as well. The Christmas specials appear to be getting progressively better, with 2014 being the exception as an otherwise suspenseful and tear-jerking tale was marred by the jarring appearance of Nick Frost's Santa Claus.

In fact, the only problem I had with this special was the non-appearance of Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, which I think has popped up in every one so far.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Final Reminder for the Amy Dillon Benefit Raffle

I mentioned the Amy Dillon Benefit Raffle last month, but in case you missed it -- or in case you meant to enter, but forgot about it -- or in case you didn't have funds because you were saving for Christmas -- or maybe you just want to enter again to get another shot at winning this sweet rifle...
... I want to remind you that you have only 24 hours left to enter the drawing. The deadline for entry is noon tomorrow (Dec 29), Mountain Standard Time.

To enter, all you have to do is go to Amy's GoFundMe page, donate $25 or more, and forward your receipt email to ADillonBenefitRaffle AT gmail DOT com. Each $25 counts as one entry. 

And even if you don't win the rifle, there are still other great prizes to be won, including signed books by such noted authors as Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Michael Z. Williamson and Andrew Branca. 
Donate to help a firearms instructor and fierce 2nd Amendment advocate! You might just win something really neat for your trouble!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Feng Shui: The Power to Move You*

Movement hasn't been much of an issue in my Feng Shui campaign, because most of the fights have been in cramped spaces. But since my players prefer to play with a game map (blasphemy, I know! But they are uncomfortable with the vagueness of "theater of the mind" combat), this will come up at some point in the future and so I'm going to codify it now.
Page 101 in the core book states that it is a 3-shot action to "Run full-out, traveling twice your Speed in meters."

From this I derive these very loose rules:
  • It costs no shots to move 1 meter (this is the Feng Shui version of the "Five foot step" rule from D&D). 
  • It costs 1 shot to move your speed in meters. 
  • However, if you make it into a stunt (-2 to your attack value), then you can move up to your speed in meters while still attacking. 

* Apologies to Tenacious D. (Mind bullets are a separate schtick.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Product Review: the Hard Charger

I've been using the Hard Charger side-charging handle system ($154.00 & free shipping) for the past 7 months and I love it to death.

I apologize if this review isn't as detailed as some of the others I've done. To a certain extent, there isn't much to say beyond "It's a side charging handle, and it does everything it says it will do and it does it really, really well," but I have endeavored to go into more detail for my readers.



What It Is
The Hard Charger is an accessory that mounts to any standard flat-top forged upper, replacing the standard charging handle and occupying the first Picatinny rail slot. As you can see from the photos of my AR, you can still mount optics with the Hard Charger and their installation does not prevent its use.

It also comes with a selection of handles (one all-metal, one coated in cushioned plastic) which gives the shooter the ability to tailor the system to his preferred shooting style and comfort level.
Hard Charger with red/green dot sight and BUIS.
Hard Charger with BSA Sweet .223 scope on a QD mount.
What It Does
As the embedded video shows, the Hard Charger gives an AR-15 operator the ability to work its action using his left hand (or belt, or other body parts, or bits of the environment, or etc) while still retaining the ability to use the charging handle in the traditional manner.

While I do not expect to use this in combat with a wounded arm, I like being able to chamber a round without fumbling around and under my scope's eyepiece for purchase. I can also see the appeal in working the bolt without having to take my hand off the pistol grip.

Installation
This is ridiculously easy:
  1. Open your AR-15 for maintenance;
  2. Remove the bolt carrier group and charging handle;
  3. Install the Hard Charger receiver on the picatinny rail;
  4. Insert the pull handle into the Hard Charger receiver;
  5. Insert the Hard Charger charging handle as demonstrated in the video;
  6. Insert your bolt carrier group as usual;
  7. Close rifle and perform function check. 
Your Hard Charger is now ready to go. 

Other Versions
There are currently other versions in development, such as those which mount in the middle of the rail and at the end, as well as a version for left-handed rifles, but those are not yet for sale. 

My Verdict
As I mentioned above, I've been using it since May and I really enjoy mine. I like the options that it gives me, it does not interfere with any of my optics, and it continues to work flawlessly.

What's more, Devil Dog Concepts is veteran owned and operated. In fact, the design for the Hard Charger was formed from the combat experience of the founders both in the Middle East and as SWAT team members, and so I'm inclined to listen when combat veterans say that this is a good idea.

About the worst thing I can say about it is that, at $154, it's rather spendy.

If you are at all interested in having a side-charging system for your AR-15 rifle, I strongly encourage you to investigate Devil Dog Concepts and their Hard Charger.

Dear FTC: I received this product free for review. I did not promise a good review, nor did I receive anything in return for a good review. Also, tell your mom I said hi. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #123 - Happy Holidays 2016

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at the GunBlog VarietyCast! Enjoy our holiday-sized episode and we'll see you next year!
  • Beth is "On Assignment" and will return next week.
  • Two suspects are arrested in the murder of a third, and you'll never guess how they knew each other! Sean tells you all about it.
  • Barron is on assignment and will return soon.
  • In the Main Topic, Erin and Sean take a look back at 2016.
  • Tiffany was so intrigued by Weer'd's Audio Fisk of the "Miss Sloan" film trailer that she had to run out and watch it...and then she tells Weer'd all about it in a double segment we like to call "The Weerdy and Tiffy Show."
  • Erin combines her Blue Collar Prepping segment with the Plug of the Week to tell you about the Mule Light by UVPaqlite.
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support. And a special thanks to our sponsors for this episode, Remington Ammunition and Lucky Gunner.com.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016


May the joy of this holiday season
be as precious as jewels,
as plentiful as snowfall, 
and sparkle as brilliantly
as diamonds in your heart. 

Merry Christmas & Happy Hearth's Warming, everypony!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Salem Plays a Game: Resident Evil 7 (Demo)

I've been following the Resident Evil series for a while now, and starting with Resident Evil 4 and going through the most recent Resident Evil 6. it's slipped away from its survival horror roots that started with fixed camera angles, extremely clunky controls, and limited inventory system (all pretty much elements of the game that were required due to the limited technology of the platforms of the time) to a more schlocky B-Movie horror/action hybrid.

Therefore it was with great excitement when I heard that Resident Evil 7 was in the works. I actually enjoyed the cheesy approach of "extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to ugly monsters," and I admired that, no matter how much it stretched your suspension of disbelief, Resident Evil stayed away from supernatural horror and stuck to scientific horror. Sure, the game originated with zombies, but it also had other monsters like giant snakes and man-sized lizard hunters, all of them the results of an experiment originally intended as a sort of super-soldier serum a la Captain America. It stuck hard to that motif, no matter how improbable the results of the mutated viral victims became, instead leaving the supernatural elements to its horror brethren Silent Hill.
I think I'm done with scary mannequins.
The demo for Resident Evil 7 has been released, and it's fantastic. You're a man with a camera investigating a dingy and allegedly abandoned structure while filming documentary footage. It's all first person, interspersed with usage of the camera as an interesting mechanic to solve puzzles and find your way through the place in which you've become trapped. Long stretches pass without encountering any sort of enemies, and there are no weapons to be found; you have only your video camera at your side as a sort of security blanket. At times you're hunted and pursued by backwoods men, running desperately and hiding to avoid them, only to meet a gruesome fate at the end.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it..
Wait... wait, no, hold on. No, that's Outlast. But you'd be forgiven for mistaking the two. Resident Evil started with a semi-overhead view, moving the camera eventually to third-person over the shoulder view, and finally reaching Resident Evil 7, a first-person survival horror game that culminates, at least in the demo, as a less-scary, less-atmospheric, and more frustrating Outlast. It really looks no better than the three-year-old first-person survival horror atmospheric masterpiece that's only $20 on a regular day (there's a Steam sale on now, and you can get both the game and its excellent expansion/DLC for about $7.25, by clicking here).
As found footage goes, it's no Marble Hornets.
That's not to say that it's a bad game. There are some interesting puzzle elements going on here as you wander the abandoned and gruesome house, and what you find affects the ending you get. So far I've gotten a "Bad Ending" and an "Infected Ending." But there are some things that just certainly don't feel like Resident Evil:

  • The first-person perspective is a obvious jarring change, but he lack of familiar faces doesn't help, either. Resident Evil has a rich cast of characters, and introduces new ones frequently by teaming them up with classic characters Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and Leon Kennedy. The new game focuses on an entirely new set of characters (or so I've heard), and the demo introduces a team of filmmakers that likely have an 11 PM slot on SyFy Network exploring abandoned "haunted" houses. 
  • I've seen no evidence of the science horror from the previous game, except for one possible monster that could be inspired by the B.O.W. monsters of previous games, and in fact in playthroughs I've seen a little ghost girl that looks much more at home in a Silent Hill or other Japanese Horror game like DreadOut. The cannibalistic hillbilly trope is much more Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes than what we've been used to so far.

The basement, where I had my first and only real scare. 
I'm giving this one a pass when it comes out. I might pick it up a year or so on when it's on a deep, deep sale, but for now I'm recommending the Resident Evil: Revelations series, which is far less action-focused and much more atmospheric than the main series, but keeps the science horror and familiar faces with games focused on Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield. Resident Evil 7 feels like it might be a decent game, but it just doesn't feel like a Resident Evil game. I feel like this one should have been spun off into a different franchise, much like Devil May Cry was originally supposed to be a Resident Evil game but just didn't fit the franchise enough.

Verdict: It's alright, but overall unimpressive. Don't pre-order it, but wait for a sale instead. If you're a Resident Evil junkie, this one's not going to scratch your itch.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cheers

Left: a Benshot "Bulletproof" 7.5 oz. rocks glass with spent .308 bullet in the glass, sent to me from Lucky Gunner and laser-etched with their logo.

Right: a 750ml bottle of Mount Gay Black Barrel rum sent to me by Blue Collar Prepping co-blogger David Blackard as a "thank you" for editing his posts.

It's enough to almost make me wish I had a cigar, because right now I feel very classy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Feng Shui: Follow-Up on Scaling Enemies

Just a brief after-action report about the principles discussed in this post.
Increasing the base attack value of Mooks by 2 to give my players a challenge (these were trained mooks, by the way, not just gang rabble) made them just enough of a threat that the PCs couldn't just ignore them, and a couple of their characters either took damage or spent Fortune/Chi on dodges to avoid that damage. This is useful, because it softened their characters up enough such that they were down some combat resources when the Featured Foes arrived. I like how this mirrors the action-movie trope of "First swamp them with minions, then send in the lieutenants, then have the boss fight."

Curiously, giving the mooks an additional +1 defense (to represent armor & training) didn't seem to make much difference. Nearly all of the PCs still managed to hit them, and the one that missed did so by a large margin.

The mook quantity of [4xPCs] was certainly enough to make them take the mooks seriously, but not so much that they would overwhelm the PCs before defeat. 4x seems like a good number to use when backed up by named characters, and I think my group could easily handle 5x of just mooks and no named NPCs. They might be able to handle 6x if fresh, but 3-4x plus a Featured Foe for each PCs seems about right for now.

Speaking of Featured Foes, pitting the PCs against PC-level FFs that have been properly advanced per the above post is definitely a challenge for them, but not an unbeatable one. They're going to know they've been in a fight, though, as so far I have one character with two marks of death against him.

Potentially of interest: It took about 2 hours of game to get through a complete sequence of 6 PCs, 5 named NPCs and 6 mooks. I'm not sure what to make of this; perhaps this will speed up as we get more comfortable with the system and have to check the rules less often.

Finally, my players get really annoyed when the bad guys act like a team and use coordinated tactics. Imagine that...

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mule Light V2 Video Review

Last week was a complete loss to me blogging-wise, but hopefully I can make something from this week. Gotta keep feeding the pig, you know?

I know that Lokidude already wrote a very nice review of the Mule Light V2, but there were a few points I wanted to make and I felt that a video would help illustrate them better.

One final thing: the magnet on the yellow collar isn't strong enough to support the light if there's any movement or vibration of the material it's magnetized to -- the flashlight is too heavy and will gradually inch down. However, the glowstick is also held in place with magnets, so if necessary you can just energize that and stick it where it needs to be. As it's significantly lighter that the light itself, it is far more likely to stay in place.

The Mule Light V2 can be purchased from Amazon for $75 and free shipping for Prime members.




Sunday, December 18, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #122 - Weekend Glory

"Some clichty folks don't know the facts, posin' and preenin' and puttin' on acts, stretchin' their backs."
  • Beth got a letter, and it wasn't a happy one. Is it so wrong to focus on women in the shooting sports?
  • There are no walls between the "Safe" university and the "Unsafe" town, and criminals don't respect your imaginary boundaries. Sean looks into the case of a man arrested for kidnapping and sex assault right near Duke University.
  • Barron is on assignment and will return soon.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean discusses his new SIG P320 and competitive shooting. Will Erin ever shoot an IDPA match?
  • Tiffany has a message for Erin, and she has to quote Maya Angelou to get that message across.
  • How many hours are there between now and sunset? Erin tells you how to use your fingers to measure things in the sky.
  • Did you know that more people bought guns than received permits to carry in Florida? Gasp! One TV station decided to try to make hay of this, so Weer'd mows them down in another patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™.
  • Our plug of the week is for the Streamlight Stylus Pro flashlight.

Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Finger Tricks

The other days I was walking our dogs with my mom when she noticed some rain clouds on the horizon and said “I wish I knew a way to look at clouds and determine how far away they are.” I thought this was a GREAT idea for a prepping segment and began to research it.

As it turns out, though, there’s no good way to estimate cloud distance, because it’s impossible to tell how large clouds are with the naked eyes. Objects without reference can be deceptively large, which is why the moon can look so huge when you see it up in the sky, but appears to get smaller when you see it behind some trees. It doesn’t actually change in size -- seeing the trees gives us a reference point and our brains can then estimate the scale.

But there are some cools tricks you can use to estimate things in the sky, and the best part is that you don’t need special tools to do it -- you only need your hands.

The first thing you can do is estimate the time until sunset using just the fingers on your hands.

  1. First, extend your arm in front of you with your palm facing you.
  2. Put your index finger under the sun. Obviously, don’t look directly at the sun, dumbass.
  3. Each finger width between the sun and the horizon is approximately 15 minutes of daylight. The closer you are to the equator, the more true this is. You should practice this now so that you know how many minutes each finger actually gives you in your location -- if you live very far north, you might have 18 minutes per finger.
  4. When you have only 2 hours of sunlight left you should start making shelter for the night.

(Sean) But Erin, you have tiny Hobbit hands, and I have large manly hands. Won’t your smaller fingers say that you have more time than mine will?

You’d think so, right? But you’d be mistaken. You see, nearly everyone’s fingers are proportional to their arm length, so my small fingers on small hands are attached to equally small arms. That means when I extend my arm out my hand isn’t as far away from me as yours is from you, and so because it’s closer my fingers appear thicker against the horizon. Neat, huh?

Now I mentioned that the time varies on how close you are to the equator. This is known as latitude, and you can also measure that using your fingers and the night sky.

  1. Again, stretch your hand out at arm’s length. 
    • A closed fist is 10 degrees. 
    • The distance between your index and little finger -- like if you’re throwing heavy metal horns -- is 15 degrees. 
    • The distance between thumb and little finger, the classic Hawaiian “hang loose” symbol, is 25 degrees.
    • Your three middle fingers -- the classic Boy Scout sign -- measure 5 degrees across, and your little finger is a single degree.
  2. So to determine your latitude, just find the North Star -- there’s a link on how to do that in the show notes -- and measure the distance from it to the visible horizon. That’s your latitude in degrees.

Using this trick, you can not only get an idea of how far north you are, but you can also look at far away objects and determine how far apart they are in navigational degrees.

You can’t use it to tell you how far away something it, but it’s a good way to tell how far apart two object on the horizon are -- and that will give you a good idea of their scale.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This is what I did today

Well, I did this in addition to buying Christmas gifts for my friends, mailing out Christmas cards, putting together the Christmas tree, etc etc.


If you have a Vistaprint account -- and if you don't, they're free -- you can use this link to modify the design for your own use. I expect people will add their own names and contact info, or just delete those fields to make blank cards to give away to other instructors.

(I shouldn't have to say this, but PLEASE delete the parenthetical "pick one" when making your own card...)

You'll need to use the "Order my own" button to the right of the card in order to customize it for yourself.

The URL for this is http://tinyurl.com/Blazing-Sword-Contact-Card. Write that down somewhere.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Beauty That Drives Me

(AKA "What's Salem been up to for the last week?")

Why is it that I do what I do? Why do I defend games?

I love stories. And I've never found a more immersive way of storytelling than that of a game; it's like the old choose-your-own-adventure books, but with physical input and visual feedback.

On that note, I've recently made an... extravagant purchase. I spent $400 that I could barely afford on a PNY Nvidia GeForce 1070 XLR8 OC. That may sound like a made-up string of letters and numbers, but it represents a huge leap forward in technology that's taken my computer from a struggling and aging machine to being a powerhouse contender again. And it isn't even the top-tier video card! If I had spent another $200 I could have gotten a 1080 series card, but I couldn't justify the expense.

I've decided to share a few screenshots I've taken since installation. Keep in mind that these games that I'm sharing with you are all running at maxed-out settings, with all the bells and whistles turned on, at a more-or-less steady 60 frames per second (the generally accepted benchmark for good performance) and 1920x1080 resolution -- otherwise known as 1080p, the same resolution that Blu-Ray movies are displayed at.

Arkham Knight
When this game came out, it was a mess. The framerate was limited to 30fps, and you were lucky if you could achieve that. Even after it was refunded heavily via Steam, taken off the store, patched and re-patched heavily, I could only maintain around 40 fps at 720p resolution. Now...
I had to show off how good my waifu looks
Bat and Cat. OTP. 
Grand Theft Auto V
A dear one to me gifted this to me as a Christmas present. I didn't buy it when it came out because of how badly I was turned off by GTA IV, but I'm happy to report that GTA V is a huge improvement. It's actually pretty fun to play, and it looks great. Especially at sunset: 
Sunset in Los Santos, Rush Hour. Being stuck in traffic never looked so good.
Rise of the Tomb Raider 
This is the sequel to the astounding reboot of the Tomb Raider series. It did not disappoint in any way, refining and adding on to the best parts of the first one. My old video card struggled to maintain 60 fps on low. Now, even with the ridiculous hair physics, it maintains a solid 60. 
The detail on these lost tombs is stunning. 
I genuinely can't believe this is actual gameplay. It looks like something out of a pre-rendered cutscene. 
Assassins Creed Unity
At launch, this game was an even bigger mess than Arkham Knight. At 720p and lowest settings I couldn't maintain 60 fps, and it was an incredible mess even after patches. Now, though, it looks great  and runs better. It does, however, hold the temperature record for my new video card so far at 74 degrees Celsius. My last card regularly ran in the 90s under much lower settings.
Revolutionary France, right before the shit hits the fan. Eat the rich. 
And right afterwards. Riots in the streets, and I'm only a day or so after escaping the Bastille.


Dishonored 2
The sad tale of the sequel to the stealthy oilpunk story of Corvo and Emily had serious launch issues as well, but was quickly patched to a playable state as well, but after plugging in this new card reaches an entirely new level of gorgeous, especially the Clockwork Mansion.
The ever-changing Clockwork Mansion. Probably one of the greatest levels I've ever played.
Crumbling empires make for very interesting scenery.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
This is the Sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was the prequel to Deus Ex, which most certainly did not have any sequels no matter what anyone else tells you. It's gorgeous, but incredibly demanding; even on the lowest settings, I could never hit 60 fps. My first playthroughnever looked this good. Not even close. 
Útulek Complex, aka Golem City. Where they send the Augmented Humans they don't trust anymore.
Police brutality captured in stunning detail. 
DOOM
This is the grand finale: a reboot of  one of the games that started it all. Certainly not the first video game, and not even the first first-person shooter, but this is the one that everyone remembers when they think about old PC games. Sadly, pictures cannot fully capture just how fast-paced and hectic this game is when the demons spawn in and all you've got is a shotgun and a handful of shells between you and gory dismemberment. But I'll give it a try:
DOOM helpfully provides stats in the upper right corner. 
Go to Hell. It never looked so good. 
Tom Clancy's The Division
Did I say finale? Then consider this the post-credits sequence. I tried this for a free weekend. I've never played it before -- I'm not even sure what's going on yet -- but I've heard it's a beast to run. And yet here it is, running like a dream.
I've got a ruined city to explore this weekend. 
In short, I spent a bunch of money I probably shouldn't have on a piece of hardware I didn't technically need, but I am so in love with the results that I have no regrets.

Deleted Scenes
Deadpool very kindly lent a hand in unboxing my card, and our dear editor reminded me of this. So credit where credit is due, Deadpool. Couldn't have done it without you!

What's in the booooooxxx!?
Stand back, Chuckles, I got this! 
Homina homina it's like Bea Arthur reborn! 
It's so BIG! (that's what she said!) QUIET, VOICES! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #121 - Armed Lutherans, Toy Guns, and a Man Without Pants

Wasn't that the synopsis of a Robin Williams movie?
  • Are toy guns OK? Beth gives you her answer to this thorny question just in time for the holidays. 
  • A man without pants was shot, and luckily for us it's not Robb Allen. Sean looks closer to see who would perform such an act of naked aggression. 
  • Barron is on assignment and will return soon.
  • Joining us this week is Special Guest Lloyd Bailey of Armed Lutheran Radio -- another podcast on the Self Defense Radio Network.
  • Well, the world is coming to an end; just ask the Los Angeles Times if you don't believe that. According to them, if Concealed Carry Reciprocity passes, it'll be a "be a parade of horribles". Sean reads the article and Erin fisks it.
  • Tiffany is also on assignment, and will return next week.
  • What do you do to keep from being overwhelmed? Delegate. Erin gives you some tips on how to do that.
  • Hollywood thinks it's time to take on The Gun Lobby™again. This time it's with Miss Sloane, a movie that looks to have all the box office appeal of that new Ghostbusters film. Weer'd has a few things to say about the movie trailer. 
  • Our plug of the week is for Amy Dillon's GoFundMe raffle, where you can win a really nice AR-15. 
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here
Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support. And a special thanks to our sponsors for this episode, Remington Ammunition and Lucky Gunner.com.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Delegating Tasks

As I mentioned at the top of the show, I’ve been really really busy with managing Operation Blazing Sword. In fact, things have gotten so crazy that I’ve had to admit that I can’t do everything by myself, so I’ve swallowed my pride and admitted that I need help in keeping things running.

This is an important lesson for preppers as well: we need to acknowledge that we can’t do everything, especially in a disaster or survival situation. I know that there are some folks out there who believe they’re John Rambo or Chuck Norris, but as I like to point out, You have to sleep sometime. There’s a reason humans have banded together for protection since prehistory.

Now if I were really cool, I would be able to say “And that is why I’ve delegated this Blue Collar Prepping segment to so-and-so, who will talk to us about such-and-such,” and then Sean would play the segment. Unfortunately, I’m not that cool, so I’m going to talk about how best to delegate.

There are many people, myself included, who easily fall victim to the thought that if we want something done properly, we have to do it ourselves. While that may be true in very specific, I think we all know that for the most part it’s BS.

So the first thing you need to do is have an adequate skill and knowledge base. You create this by making friends with intelligent people who are experienced in ways that you aren’t.

For example, my co-blogger Chaplain Tim spent 20 years in the water purification industry, so whenever I have questions about water, or chemistry in general, I go to him. If he were part of my real-life prepping group instead if being in another part of the country, I would put him in charge of the water and rest easy knowing that he’d take care of it properly.

Just as importantly, I wouldn’t micromanage him -- I’d assign the task and get out of his way, trusting that he’d come to me if he needed help. Micromanaging is actually WORSE than doing it yourself, because it wastes everyone’s time, results in the person being micromanaged feeling annoyed and insulted, and the task still doesn’t get done properly.

However, while it’s very easy to delegate when someone has a clearly defined area of expertise -- it’s something else when that someone has little to no skill.

A while back, I was on another podcast and the host asked me what he should do with his children, who were young girls, during a disaster situation to keep them from panicking. My advice was to find a job for them to do, because it would keep their minds occupied on the task instead of the emergency, and by doing that job they would not only help the family but also -- perhaps more importantly -- stay out from being underfoot.

In his particular situation, the family had pet dogs, so I suggested that he delegate to his girls the task of wrangling the pets -- keeping them calm and out of the way, making sure they had food and water and were able to relieve themselves, that sort of thing. This was doubly useful to him because not only would it keep his children from panicking but also keep his dogs from freaking out and making a mess or causing a ruckus.

What’s important to remember is that everyone in a prepping group needs a job to do. It makes them feel useful, and feeling like a contributing and therefore important member of the group is good for morale. It’s also great for whoever is in charge, because however minor that task is, it’s one less thing for the leader to worry about.

So in conclusion:
  • Make sure everyone has a job to do that is within their skill set.
  • Have them do that job and praise them when they perform it well. 
  • Watch them as they do their duties for signs that they might be better suited for other tasks, either in addition to or in place of the original. 
  • If they’re doing a good job, stay out of their way!
  • If you’re the leader, offload as much “doing” as possible to other people. In my admittedly limited experience, being a leader is more about thinking and making decisions and being a good role model than it is doing every little thing.

Erin Is Still Alive

Hey, all. I know you haven't heard from me in a week, and I just wanted to let you know that I'm okay. I've just been very, very busy this past week working on getting Operation Blazing Sword functional, and unfortunately that pretty much precluded me doing any blogging. The good news is that I think (I hope) I've gotten it all under control, and that regular blogging can return next week.

So here's what I've accomplished this week:
  • Operation Blazing Sword is now recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 tax-deductible charity. This means that if you donated at any time after August 22, our effective date of exemption, that you can now claim it on your taxes. 
  • We have a bank account, meaning that instead of sending the money to me (which is all kinds of awkward), you can donate directly to OBS without getting me involved.  Please don't get me wrong I am very grateful to people who donated to help me with expenses, but I really want to keep OBS finances wholly separate from EP finances. 
  • We have a PayPal account linked to our bank account, so you can now make electronic donations. We have even been approved as a charity, so PayPal takes less of your donation in fees than they would if we were just a regular incorporated entity. 
  • I've created the nicest, most professional "Thank You" letter/donation receipt I can come up with so that people who do donate can be properly thanked and use it for their taxes. 
  • With all that said, if you'd like to make a tax-deductible donation to a pro-gun educational charity before the end of the year, now's your chance. You can donate electronically using this link, or you can mail a check to our corporate headquarters at 800 Belle Terre Parkway, Suite 200-302, Palm Coast FL 32164-2316. 
However, I'm not done. Here's what I still have left to do:
  • Become an Amazon-approved charity so that people can help our organization through buying things via AmazonSmile
  • Work on our long-neglected website. 
  • Investigate ways of getting our message out into the larger LGBTQ community (I expect this will require advertising being purchased). 
  • Once we have enough money, start sponsoring things like training classes in concealed carry states and safety seminars in states that are hostile to CC. 
  • Generally "grow the charity" and "spread our message" and "do good works."
No pressure, right?

Finally, here's something else I was able to accomplish this week: an appearance on Eye on the Target Radio. You can download the episode here, or just click on the embedded audio player below.


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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fun with POV: Alternate Take on Baby, It's Cold Outside

When viewed through a certain ideological lens, the classic Christmas song Baby, It's Cold Outside takes on a sinister tone. That ideological lens, though, is very narrow and doesn't take into account (as usual) the social mores of the time in which it was written -- in other words, the lens obscures cultural context. Extramarital sex was frowned upon by society when it was written, and the song is about the internal conflict inside the woman who wants to stay, but is trying to talk herself out of it. (or maybe even into it?)

Much fuss has been made about that song since, and now someone's actually gone ahead and rewritten it based around the concepts of consent and rape culture, because social justice loonies are why we can't have nice things. But what if that lens wasn't the only one you viewed the song through? What if we take someone else's lived experiences and applied it to this classic song?

I give you, now, Salem's version of Baby, It's Cold Outside.

I really can't stay (But baby, it's cold outside)
I've got to go away (That's a funny way of putting it, but okay)

This evening has been (Problematic at best)
So very nice (Well, that's one way of putting it)

My mother will start to worry (Don't you have your own place?)
My father will be pacing the floor (You still live with your parents?)

So really I'd better scurry (A'ight, well, here's your coat)
But maybe just a half a drink more (I really think you've had enough)

The neighbors might think (They're busy playing X-Box)
Say what's in this drink? (Okay, this is getting weird. Why are you still here?)

I wish I knew how (Door. Right there.)
To break this spell (Bye, Felicia. Get gone.)

I ought to say, no, no, no sir (You already did. You're creeping me out.)
At least I'm gonna say that I tried (Is this some kind of setup? Are you recording this?)

I really can't stay (Look, just go, I'll call you tomorrow.)
But baby, it's cold outside

I simply must go (You keep saying that)
The answer is no (And yet you're still here.)

Your welcome has been (Retracted. You can go now.)
So nice and warm (And now we're heating the neighbourhood because you're leaving the door open)

My sister will be suspicious (You know, I really don't like your sister.)
My brother will be there at the door (Your brother needs to chill out.)

My maiden aunt's mind is vicious (Your what now?)
But maybe just a cigarette more (Out on the porch. My flat doesn't allow smoking.)

I've gotta get home (What do you want, cab fare?)
Say lend me a coat (The hell is wrong with yours?)

You've really been grand (You're starting to scare me.)
But don't you see? (I'm pretty sure you're the one that doesn't see.)

There's bound to be talk tomorrow (That's kinda what I'm worried about.)
At least there will be plenty implied (That sounds like a threat.)

I really can't stay (That's it, I'm calling the cops.)
Baby, it's cold
Baby, it's cold outside

(Hi, police? There's a crazy woman in my house that won't leave. Can you help?)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #120 - Your Life is a Kitchen

So bake as many pies as you want with the GunBlog VarietyCast!
  • Beth brings her husband Sean (not GBVC Sean, a different Sean) back on to talk about being a couple who shoot competitively.
  • A 32-year-old woman is accused of stabbing her 61-year-old former roommate to death. Sean takes a closer look.
  • Barron is on assignment and will return soon.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin answer a pair of questions from a liberal gun-owning listener: "What do you hear when a liberal says 'We need to have a conversation', and what do you hear when a liberal says 'We need to compromise' ?"
  • In a late night/early morning segment, Tiffany discusses the First Amendment concept of "fighting words" and how that relates to your Second Amendment right to armed self-defense. 
  • When the oil from the hurricane lamps you've got stored in the garage leaks all over the floor, how can you get it cleaned up? Erin gives you some tips.
  • Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is back, this time in a Vice News interview. You know what that means: it's time for another patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™!
  • Our plug of the week is for Roll20.
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here
Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support. 

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Lamp Oil Cleanup on Aisle Five!

Now that my family has unpacked the Christmas decorations and strung them up across the house, it’s time for the annual cleaning up of the garage in the hopes that maybe this is the year we’ll get it all organized. I say “hopes” because invariably something goes wrong, and this year is no exception.

We maintain several hurricane lamps in the house for, not surprisingly, if we lose electricity from a hurricane. And we’ve had these lamps for a long time -- at least 30 years now.

Now despite these lamps being old they haven’t received a lot of use, because storms rarely knock out electricity for more than a few hours and because (with my help) my family has moved on to battery-powered means of long term light.

But batteries can wear down, and it’s always good to have backups, so we’ve kept these lamps around. However, the drawback to owning one is that you also need to stay well-stocked with lamp oil.

Now I don’t know if our listeners know this -- I certainly didn’t until this past week -- but apparently the plastic bottles that store lamp oil can become brittle after, oh, a decade of storage in a garage, and past that point bumping them, or even moving them, will cause them to crack (or in our case, shatter) and leak all over the place.

So this past week has involved me asking the collective wisdom of the Blue Collar Prepping Facebook Group -- if you aren’t a member, you’re wrong, join today -- how to clean up the stinky stain in my garage and if there’s any hazard associated with it.

So first of all, lamp oil is just highly refined kerosene, with a flash point -- that means “the temperature at which it ignites” -- of 363 degrees F. This is not to be confused with the auto ignition point, which means “the temperature at which it spontaneously ignites without needing a spark”, and is a much higher 428 degrees F.

These are all good things to know, because it means that the spill won’t catch fire in a hot garage!

So, onto the cleanup, and the techniques I outline here can be used for other forms of fuel, like gasoline.

The first thing I need to do it absorb as much of the oil as possible. This is best done with clay-type non-clumping cat litter, although dry sand will also work. Cover the stain with it, wait until it’s saturated, then dispose of the litter or sand and replace it. I need to keep doing this until there’s no more oil to be absorbed, and if I really want to get aggressive I can scrub the litter into the floor with my shoe or a broom.

After that, I’m going to spray the stain with carburetor cleaner. This is supposed to “lift” any remaining oil out of the concrete and allow it to be absorbed as disposed of.

I need to spray the stain until it’s covered -- not a thick coat, just wetted down -- let it stand about 5-10 minutes, then put more kitty litter onto it. I’m told that I should repeat this about 3 more times. This will probably get out everything it’s possible to get out.

After THAT, I need to use Dawn dishwashing soap to break down whatever oil is left and cause it float to the top. More kitty litter!

After that’s done, it’s just a simple matter of washing off the rest of the Dawn with water and a mop.

Of course, all of this trouble could have been avoided if I’d prevented the lamp oil from spilling in the first place. What I’m going to do to keep this from happening in the future is to keep our remaining bottles of oil in a big plastic storage tub. That way, even if the bottles break, the only mess will be inside the tub instead of all over the floor!

Friday, December 2, 2016

SHTFriday: Steganography

I forgot to link to this on Monday, so if you haven't read my Blue Collar Prepping post on stegonography, now would be a great time.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Actually, It's About Ethics in Electoral Integrity

I feel very, very confused right now.

I grew up during the tail end of the Cold War and, being in a military family, moved around a lot. The escalating tensions between the US and its allies against the Soviet Union and its allies wasn't easy to understand by us kids living on-base, but I could tell something was wrong from the stress in people's faces as they watched the news. This tension only increased when we moved to West Germany -- which shared a border with East Germany, a an ally of the Soviets. 

Despite this, I went through a rebellious phase where I identified as Communist, Marxist, etc. After studying history, I eventually realized that those systems would never work in reality because human nature would not allow it. After all, someone had to make sure production went out from each according to their abilities and came back to each according to their needs, and in that accountable person's mind, their need is always going to be greater than that of the people in the bread line.

On a totally unrelated note, Fidel Castro is dead. Many people call him a 'divisive' figure, which I'm choosing to translate as "We're just to the right of Stalin, so we dare not criticize Castro too heavily lest we be cast out." Seeing as how I've cast myself out of progressive circles, I'm not going to worry too much about it and just call it like I see it: Castro was a brutal dictator who overthrew another brutal dictator who overthrew another brutal dictator. I also feel sympathy for people living in Cuba, and totally understand someone wanting to leave. I especially feel for those who were shot at as they fled the country. This entire situation reminds me of a particularly powerful scene that I can't quite put my finger on...

Oh, wait, that's it.

What bothers me here isn't the Ctrl-Left pseudo-marxists who are mourning Castro
s death -- like them, I would have expressed a similar sentiment at a different point in my life. No, I'm bothered by the sitting Prime Minister who referred to Castro as a 'revolutionary and great orator.' That worries me a little. But what worries me more is Dr Jill Stein.

Dr. Jill Stein, who ran on the Green Party platform and has a folk band. Dr. Jill Stein, who is calling for a recount in several states and has a crowd-funding campaign to back it. One that has apparently missed the deadline for Pennsylvania, so there's that gone.
Dr. Jill Stein is demanding recounts in favour of Hillary Clinton while praising someone who was 'President' in one form or another for 47 years. She's demanding Electoral Integrity while praising someone who, as far as I can tell, never had to face re-election because there were no elections for his position. Correct me if I'm wrong on this

Jill. what are you doing? Why are you collecting money from people who are tapped out from supporting you and Bernie and Hillary, then missing deadlines for the one state that mattered, and then praising someone with a reputation for firing squads, reducing rations, and cutting electricity to his people for 16 hours a day while having a net worth (estimated by Forbes about 10 years ago) of $900 million? It reeks of a scam to me, and I honestly don't blame the people who are asking you for refunds right now.

Fidel Castro is the exemplar of what I said previously regarding why Communism never works in the real world: Because one person always gets to decide what resources are taken from these people and given to those people based on their need, and that one person's own need is always going to be greater than the people starving in bread lines and using oxen to plow their fields because there's no fuel for the tractor. 

I'm frankly sickened by Dr. Jill Stein's sentiment towards Castro. He was just another cruel person who overthrew another cruel person, so he could be cruel to more people. The only good revolutionary is one that steps aside when the job is done, and Castro did not step aside when that job was done. Instead, he planted himself firmly in a position of power and soaked it up. 

Green Party, is this who you want representing you? If so, then I'm glad she's yet another candidate I didn't vote for. 

Because when it comes to Dr. Jill Stein, I guess it's actually about ethics in electoral integrity.

The Fine Print


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