Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Traveller Tuesday: Sensors

My murderhobos are currently in a (slightly) de-milled Aegis-class Fleet Scout, and with it comes a truly impressive sensor suite. Of course, this means that the sensor rules in Mongoose Traveller are getting a workout, and naturally I found something I didn't like and that means tinkering was, in fact, inevitable. 

So here's the canonical version of sensors in MongTrav:

My complaints about it can be summarized thus:
  1. Light and Heat are parts of the Electro-Magnetic spectrum. Since they all move at the same speed, the ranges should be identical. 
  2. There isn't enough benefit to using active sensors. 
  3. In space, having the max distance top out at 50,000+ km is pretty pathetic. Just for reference, the distance from the Earth to the Moon is 400,000 km. 
  4. The level of detail given by sensors is pretty pathetic, and again, there's no benefit to going active. 
Unfortunately, I don't know enough about sensors, science and math to fix this problem. 

Fortunately, one of my players is not only a fan of science and amateur astronomer, he's also a former sensor technician. So I presented the problem to him, flailed my arms about in frustration as I tried to describe what I wanted, and he gamely plugged in the numbers and added details.  Therefore, I would like to publicly thank Brook "Tanuki" West, the same fellow who wrote the article on Stellar Classification, for helping me with this project.

And now, I present to you, a Better Sensor chart! (Google docs version found here.)

Some explanations:
  1. So... yeah.  Visual, Thermal and EM are even MORE differentiated. I'm.... not entirely sure why. I think I had it explained to me that while detection is easy, it's the resolution based on the spectrum that differs, and that's what gives sensor detail.

    I think.

    I'm going to tag Brook to answer this in the comments below. 
  2. Level of detail is far more... er... detailed. I like options, they give flavor. 
  3. Active sensors give a benefit! And there's even a difference between using Lidar and Radar! Woo!
  4. If I were being professional, that last range really ought to be labeled "Planetary."  However, I am fond of swearing, and there are two marines (and a fiancee of a marine) in my game, so it just seems apropos.

    PCs: "Can we detect anything more on that distant blip?"

    Me: "At that range?  You can fuck right off."

So, there you have it. Better sensors, expanded range.  The next thing I'm going to do is extend the weapons chart out to those ranges as well  ("Can we hit it?"  "Fuck off.") and then my game will have a nice flavor of We detected it hours ago, but we don't know if it's friend or foe so let's start worrying for however many hours it takes to close the range for better details.

Monday, September 29, 2014

When seconds count, the police are just minutes away

All too often, I am asked why I carry a gun. Have I "bought into the fear being peddled by the NRA and firearm manufacturers"?

While I doubt this explanation will convert the True Believers, an event that occurred in Phoenix, AZ earlier this month really ought to be the final word on the matter for anyone who has eyes to see, ears to hear, and minds to think when it comes to the fallacy of "You don't need a gun, just call 911."

And hey, one of the sources reporting it is HuffPo, so there's no way it can be accused of having a right-wing bias.

To summarize:

A woman -- a widow, presumably living alone -- hears someone trying to break into her house. We don't know how long it took between realizing someone was trying to break in and calling 911, but from the tone of her voice you can tell she's terrified, so I think it's safe to assume it was 30 seconds or less.

If you listen to the actual 911 recording, from start to finish, at the 2:30 mark she says "He's inside!" and there is an audible scuffle as the phone is dropped.

The fight ends when she shoots him.

Later, still listening to the recording, you hear him say that he thought the house was abandoned, and yet, DESPITE THAT CLAIM, when he found her hiding inside her bathroom, he assaulted her.

The police can be heard inside the house at the 6:30 mark.

A transcript of the call can be found here, courtesy of AZ Central 12 News.

So, let's go over the facts:

  1. 6.5 minutes is DAMN FAST for police to respond. I'd go so far as to say it's practically unrealistic. I've called 911 to report that my father was having a stroke and it took the fire department between 10 and 15 minutes to arrive. 
  2. They still didn't arrive in time to protect her. Even if we assume she took 30 leisurely seconds to call police, the burglar was inside her house, INSIDE HER BATHROOM, and assaulting her within 3 minutes.
  3. That last part is important:  if all he wanted to do was rob the house, he could have. But he sought her out inside the bathroom, and instead of fleeing, he assaulted her. 
  4. We're told "Just give them what they want and they'll leave you alone."  Well, what if what they want is to maim, rape or kill you? 
  5. If she hadn't had that gun to protect herself, she would have been at his mercy for 4 minutes until the police arrived. For an idea of how much damage can be done in that amount of time, I'd like to point out that a singe round in a boxing match takes only 3 minutes, and that's done between professional athletes, of similar weights, in protective gear, and who adhere to a code of conduct AND have a referee.

So please realize this: If you still believe no one but police officers should have guns, you are effectively saying "I'm okay with this widow being assaulted for four minutes before the police arrive."

Friday, September 26, 2014

In Memoriam: Psalm-Angel Onstott, 9/24/2014

Let's all take a moment out of our schedules to offer prayers and support to Sabra and Erik Onstott, whose little girl Psalm-Angel was born on Thursday and who died 90 minutes later.

This was Thursday's devotional entry, and it seems appropriate:

Erik posted on Facebook:

Been resting most of the afternoon and spending time with the baby, but...

Psalm-Angel Guadalupe lived about an hour and a half before she went home to the Lord. She got to spend time with Mama and me, as well as her sisters and brother. She knew nothing but love her whole life. It was the absolute best we could have hoped for. I'll be a grown-up and admit I was scared to watch them clean her up and dress her, but even with all the abnormalities she was still the most beautiful and perfect baby that I have ever seen. It was at that moment that I learned down to the fibers of my being what love truly is.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being there for us. Going to rest now...

I first wrote about the Onstotts back in June, and I've been impressed by the amount of love and support they've been given.  Thanks to you folks, they were able to get their car fixed and find an afforable place to live.

They aren't out of the woods yet, though.  Between medical bills and funeral expenses, things are awfully tight for them right now. Will you please donate some money to help them make it through the month? I have.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Doctor Who: Ocean's Twelfth

What am I supposed to do with a ringing phone? Avoid spoilers, that's what.

     Clara's apartment is really tiny, isn't it? I mean, mine is really tiny, too, but it's like someone took my apartment and shoved walls into it. And she's nicked Ellen Page's wardrobe.

     Now that we've gotten our feet wet and taken a moment to breathe, can we talk about that new opening? It's so weird. Weird in that terribly fun weird way that Farscape's opening theme was, or the Cantina scene in the first Star Wars film. It seems to be very polarizing amongst Doctor Who fandom, as I've heard it referred to as brilliantly bold, as theremin trash, and everything in between. I think just summing it up as fun and weird is sufficient, and a sign of the confidence the creators have in the show that it can have such a weird theme song, especially right after introducing a new lead actor.

     Time Heist is the fastest-paced episode that we've had this year, suitable for an homage to a heist film. Even when characters are standing still, the lines are delivered with a quick and snappy panache, with Capaldi leading the charge metaphorically, and sometimes literally, breathless in his performance. The major strength of this episode, though, lies in its guest cast. Sabra and Psi are stylish and charismatic, and feel like they were pulled straight out of Shadowrun. I especially liked Psi's insistence that he was a gamer, seeing as how so many gamers are closet codemonkeys in real life, and that sly smile that Sabra gives from just inside the rim of that hood. Both of the actors are to be commended for portraying a stylish energy masking such a deep sadness in their characters, and I would kill for a spinoff mini-series about the two of them. And Keeley Hawes as Ms Delphox. Oh lawdy, Keeley Hawes. She's quite possibly the most English person that's ever Englished, and I've been a fan of hers since way in Spooks (called MI:5 on the US side of the ocean, because of the word having a questionable history in the States and people always ready to cry racism). Hawes is delightfully dignified and politely menacing. 

Queue Kill Bill theme (courtesy BBC)
     Clara's role as “carer” is called into question here with Psi's angry stab at her tendency to 'apologize' for him. And it's true. Twelve is an asshole, and Clara spends a lot of time smoothing things over with the people that he runs roughshod over. I have a feeling that may lead to a falling out between the two later in the series, which might be what causes Clara's rumored departure.

     The Teller. Phew. I really love the Teller. It's such a bizarre, alien-looking creature. In a universe where Terran-normal hominid-form is such a common appearance, seeing something like the Teller, with its reptilian skin, hulking mass, and tentacle eyestalks is so refreshing, calling back to now-classic sci-fi like the original Star Wars films or Farscape, which in turn were inspired by even older Sci-Fi like classic Who. The effect his power has, too, is seat-squirming. The body horror of the inside of your head being liquified and slushed in a manner that leaves your skull caved in is horrifying, and I'm sure the little kids still watching Who were equal parts grossed out and laughing.

     Also, anyone catch all the easter eggs in that list of baddies that Psi pulled up? Abslom Daak? Captain John Hart?

Next Week – Doctor Who: CAN IT WAIT? I MUST CALIBRATE!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Things I can't believe I said out loud #4852

aka Reason #4852 why Erin shouldn't be allowed in public:
[Name redacted to protect the innocent]:
In game publishing, game products are a mix of background material (fluff) and rules (crunch).
I am very very good at crunch.
I'm always looking for people to write fluff, because fluff doesn't interest me as a writer.

I really shouldn't be allowed to talk to other humans without a chaperone present.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'Bama and Brimstone

A return to a particular literary universe.

Interlude: Bama and Brimstone

My name is Esther Anna Sweethill. 

I was born in Selma, Alabama in 1945. 20 years later, I marched with Dr. King to the state capitol in Montgomery. Listening to him, I felt the power of strong words backed by a strong faith, and what could be accomplished by a man who believed in both. 

I felt love, too. I met my husband, Samuel, on that march. He gave me two beautiful boys -- after we were married, I'll have you know. 

Samuel went to Vietnam in 1968 and never came back. It was hard, being a widowed black woman raising two boys in the 1970s, but by God, and with His help, I did it. 

Neither of my children did drugs or became delinquents, praise Jesus. I loved them and I nagged them to be better.  I praised them when they did good and, yes, I spanked the devil out of them when they were wicked. 

None of them ever went to jail. Not a one. I told them, "If the police arrest you then you might as well plead guilty, because when I get you home I will take a switch to your hide like you've never seen and you'll never sit down again, and then I'm really gonna punish you."  I think they were more scared of me than they were of the police, and that suits me just fine. I had to be both mama and papa to my boys, and sometimes that meant I had to scare them back onto the Lord's path. 

They're all grown up now, and have fine families. My eldest, Jacob, went into construction. Nothing wrong with hard work, I told him, it's an honest days' work for an honest days' wage.  He started by digging ditches and now he's a foreman. He has a passel of girls now, all sweet and giggly. They're the apple of his eye, but they do task him. Serves him right, I tell him, for all the grief and hassle he caused me growing up!  His oldest, Ruth, is in college now. 

My youngest, Eli, went to college on scholarship, God bless him. First in my family ever to go, and the day he graduated I was so proud I was full to bursting. He does something with computers that I don't rightly follow, but that's fine -- he understands it well enough for both of us. He married this Indian girl called Parvati, and oh I did NOT approve of that, let me tell you!  I taught my boys to be God-fearing Christians, and then I see him taking up with this heathen!

I started to give him a piece of my mind, and you know what he said to me?  He said, "First Corinthians 7:16, mama."  Well, how do you like that? If my boy loves her enough to quote scripture at me, then I reckon he knows what he's doing, and I'll trust him.

I pray to Jesus for his marriage just the same, though. 

Oh, and their wedding!  We all flew to India for it, and while India is a heathen country that needs Jesus like you wouldn't believe, they're still some of the nicest folks you could ever meet.  And would you believe that they have elephants there?  And not in the zoo, either, but working like a farm horse! I got to ride on one which about made my year, let me tell, except for the fact that my baby was getting married and that was better... but only by a smidge, I say with a wink. Oh, I've always loved elephants, ever since I was a little girl, and never did I think I would get to meet one in person, let alone ride one. It was an adorable little baby, all fat and huggable, and did you know that baby elephants have hair?  I didn't!  They have this fine hair all over their backs that you can't see, but you can sure feel it, mmm-hmm. 

Afterwards, Parvati's mother gave me something called a "garnish." She heard how much I loved elephants and so gave me a little doll of the cutest little cartoon elephant. He's wearing the cutest little hat, and one of his tusks is broken and it reminds me of my boys when they were losing their baby teeth and went around all snaggletoothed. 

She said it would be bring me luck, but I don't know about that. I lost my savings not too long ago. I don't rightly know how it happened -- I said I don't properly understand computers, recall? -- but according to Eli I clicked on something I shouldn't have and next I know, my credit's run up and my money's gone and my identity's stolen. Lordy!  Why would anyone want to be me so bad they'd steal who I was?

But just when I think I have to go live with one of my boys, I get a telephone call from a nice man called Mister Netty, and he says he's figured out what's happened and who's to blame and how to fix it. 

No fool I, I ask what the catch is for fixing it. 

Mister Netty, he says "If I tell you there's no catch you'll think I'm lying to you. So what if I told you that you could help punish the people who did this to you, and stop others like them from doing it to other people?"

"How could I help with that?"  I ask. "I'm just an old lady in her sixties. I'm a grandma!"

He says, "You're a mother, and these criminals are naughty children that need a good spanking. And when you are filled with righteous indignation, Miss Esther, you're terrifying."  Well, how could I say no to that?   

And so here I am, driving around the country in my old car. Yevgeny  is a special boy -- God love him, he's special -- but it's nice to feel like a mama to someone again. I don't know if Yevvy was ever properly mothered, but if there's a way to make up for it, I will. He's got a good heart, even if it doesn't really know how to connect to folk sometimes. 

And then there's Reecy, who I swear is the Lord's way of testing my patience. She is surly and difficult and wicked and hateful, and I could almost hate her back if I couldn't see just how badly life's hurt her. Maybe if I'm patient enough and loving enough and kind enough -- Lord, give me strength! -- she'll trust me enough to open up to me and maybe she'll let that love into her heart to cover up all that pain she carries. 

Of course, before I do all that, I have to get through this right here. 

My name is Esther Anna Sweethill.  I am sixty-three years old. I raised two children on my own, survived being widowed, and came back from losing everything.  

I'm in my nightgown, and my hotel room is on fire. 

And there is no way in hell that I'm letting an Asian devil-child in a pink skirt and cat ears shoot me to death.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Gunday: Rewarding Good Customer Service

Given Linoge's recent (and, sadly, not-so-recent) problems with Remington customer service, I felt it incumbent upon me to recognize exemplary customer service when I see it.

Two weeks ago I was at the range with my Sub-2000, re-zeroing my red dot sight after removing the rail system and replacing it with one from Red Lion Precision  (a review of which will be forthcoming) when I went to load another magazine and discovered that my cocking handle had just... disappeared. Subsequent investigation discovered it slightly downrage with all the ejected brass.

This in itself was not too surprising, as I've managed to break one of the cocking handles before (albeit through my own mis-engineering). The design has an inherent flaw, which I shall attempt to describe through prose and pictures since I don't have a cutaway drawing of internal S2K mechanics.

The S2K uses direct blowback in its operation. The bolt (right) attaches to what I am calling the bolt carrier (center) by means of a tongue-and-groove layout. (The bolt rolled onto its back due to weight, so this is not actually how it goes into the gun. For purposes of explanation, however, I hope it suffices.)

The cocking handle (below) sticks through a hole in the bolt carrier, and is held in place by the tension of the recoil spring (above) against the end cap (left).

Now, in order for the spring to index against the handle, the handle is thinned out to match the diameter of the spring (see below).  Unfortunately, since the handle reciprocates along with the entire bolt assembly after each shot, there will be stress put upon the handle, and since it's not uniformly thick, it's prone to breaking at its thinnest area

As I said, this wasn't terribly surprising, but it was disappointing; I had been using the extended cocking handle made by Twisted Industries that I received back in January of 2013, and up until this point it had performed flawlessly. What surprised me was that I didn't feel it fly off!  I would have assumed that the break would occur at either full retraction or full extension, and yet I didn't feel the broken handle strike my shoulder or my operating arm. I suppose it broke as the bolt slammed home, and then just fell towards my feet and rolled into the brass just ahead of the shooting position.

I don't know if just was just good luck on my part, or good engineering on the part of Kel-Tec and/or Twisted Industries, but either way I'm grateful that this breakage didn't result in injuries.

On the good side, at least I got my red dot zeroed:

Upon arriving back home, I got on Facebook and whined a bit about having a broken part... and then I contacted Harry Perrette, my buddy at Twisted Industries, to see about getting a new one:

Me: Hey Harry, today while at the range my TI extended cocking handle broke and fell out of my Sub-2000. Has this ever happened before? [pictures attached]  Do you have any sort of replacement service?
Harry: Yeah, that's why we made them. It's common. Email me your address, we have an updated one. You want stainless or black?
Me: Black please. Do you happen to know how many hundred rounds before it typically fails?
Harry: New ones don't fail.
Me: Excellent. Thanks for your prompt response. I'll talk you up for having good customer service!

And so, by the next week, I had in my hands the newest version of the Twisted Industries Sub-2000 Operating Handle!  A quick look at the redesign certainly explains Harry's claims that it won't fail:  instead of
being thinned all the way around (easy to do on a lathe, but at the expense of weakening the metal) a flat surface is milled out of one side.  

This surface gives the recoil spring something to index against, while hopefully keeping the column stronger. 

This design does have the very slight drawback of needing to make sure the handle is oriented the right way during assembly, but I'll take an additional second or two of inconvenience in return for a promise of "won't ever fail" any day of the week.

But will it not ever actually fail, though?  Well, that remains to be determined.  TI's old handle lasted a year and several hundred rounds -- between 250 and 500, I'd estimate. Going forth from here, I'm going to try to keep closer records of number of rounds put through my S2K, and IF this new operating handle fails, I'll let you know.

Until then, I'm quite happy with mine, and I encourage any Sub-2000 owner to purchase a TI Operating Handle. They cost between $24.99 for the graphite black version and $29.99 for a stainless steel version.

Picture from the TI website.
Included here because of the awesome "pile of empty brass" quote etched onto the tube. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Actually Happened

I keep telling people I am a massive nerd, and yet whenever a situation where I need to demonstrate that fact arises, they usually look startled or surprised at the breadth of my nerdiness.

Case in point:

Today I was at my church like I am every Thursday, arranging the powerpoint display for the hymns we sing. After I finish up, I go to the church office (to tell them that I'm done and to turn in my folder) where I encounter our church secretary talking to some woman I'd never seen before.

"This is Erin," the secretary introduces me. "She does our powerpoint."

"Pleased to meet you, Erin," says the stranger as she shakes my hand. And when she introduces herself, I swear that I hear her say her name is "Aykaysha."

(I suppose I ought to state for the record that this lady had a complexion that could have been Hispanic, could have been Asian Indian, or could have been just really tan.)

"Cool name!" I said, smiling. "I like it."

She gives me a funny look. "Normally when people say that, they have something to say, or something to ask. You look like you have something to ask."

I thought about this for a moment. "I have to warn you," I warned her. "I am a MASSIVE nerd. Do you really want to hear it?"


"Okay," I say, smiling. "So, I assume that your parents are fond of Eastern philosophy? Hinduism, Buddhism, etc?"

She gives me the oddest look, like I'm suddenly speaking in tongues: tilts her head, blinks several times, opens her jaw and works her mouth wordlessly. "... why?" she finally manages to ask.

"Akasha is the Sanskrit word for aether. You know... the metaphysical fifth element? No-space and no-time?  The source and location of ancestral memory?"

She shakes her head. "A-K-A-S-H-A."  I spell it out as if that will explain things. "Your name is Ay-kay-sha, right?  Akasha, Aykaysha?"

She wrinkles her nose like I'm poop on her shoe and says, slowly and deliberately, "My name is spelled A-C-A-C-I-A."

"oh like the tree,"  I say in a small voice, sinking into my chair. "well nevermind then." 

Doctor Who: I'm Not Hearing Voices

Listen Carefully: Spoilers as usual.

     Mark Gatiss is one of the most frustratingly incon... wait, no, that was last week. After my lingering and aforementioned frustration over last week's episode, I needed this one. Listen is, possibly, the best piece of writing Moffat's delivered for the series to date, and that's including my (former? ..nah) favorite, the two parter Empty Child/Doctor Dances. I won't quite give it that top spot, as the “Everybody lives” speech still renders me a blubbering, weepy mass.

     The Doctor's Strax-ish bickering with Clara returns in full-force, as well as the hilarious blink-and-you'll-miss-it explanation of parking in the bedroom because he suspected Clara might bring a date home. Either Twelve's brain just doesn't make those sort of connections anymore, or he's being terribly spiteful. I like to think it's the former, but I'm still not sure. Twelve is more and more reminiscent of what Gregory House would be, if handed a time machine. We're also given the birth of a new running joke: Clara's wide face. It's so wide. She's all eyes. She even needs three mirrors. She can't just turn her head, after all, it's too wide. Speaking of Clara, her character is fleshed out even further, showing us that when she's away from the TARDIS, away from 'adventure mode' she's pants-on-head stupid when it comes to flirting and relationships, but when there's a scary monster or a scared little boy, she's confident, compassionate, and fearless. Misters Pink make for a great foil for Clara, as well, with good chemistry and reciprocal awkwardness, even when pulling a Rose Tyler and imprinting on her boyfriend when he was a child. Colonel Pink also ties in nicely with last year's episode, Hide. Looks like he was the Alpha test flight for human time travel. When his attempt failed, they likely went back to the drawing board when the Doctor delivered him home, and then quite some time later, Hila Tacorien was sent with slightly less terrible results, eventually resulting in Earth having a rather active Time Agency centuries later.

     What makes this episode special, though, what really makes it shine, is the monster. The monster, and the fact that there may actually not have been a monster. Debate has been raging since this episode aired. What was that monster? Was there a monster at all? What was under the sheet? What was banging on the airlock at the end of the universe? Was it, as the Doctor theorized, the ultimate hider? Someone that follows us around from birth to death, and never comes into our view? Two completely unrelated monster that the Doctor just stumbled on? Personally, I think the answer was there all along. The Doctor literally explained it, but we were too busy looking for something fantastic. In young Rupert's room, it was just another child playing a joke. At the end of the universe, it was the ship settling, and the atmosphere escaping. Our minds, like the Doctor's thanks to Clara, filled in the rest with scary, unimaginable bits, painting a much more horrible picture.
I think it looks like a giant grey penis. Penis courtesy BBC.
     And speaking of Clara's actions: In a way, this story acts as an origin story for The Doctor, albeit one that it took 50 years and 12 incarnations to finally reach. It shows as an origin that started way back when Jack, Martha, and the Tenth Doctor were hiding from The Master's Archangel Network, and he regaled his companions with stories of his childhood, of looking into the Untempered Schism, where raw temporal energy threatened to tear into our universe, and of how he ran, scared. The trauma caused him to run to his family's barn and hide under the covers at night, and caused his parents to fear he'd never enter the Academy of the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and he'd be relegated to the Gallifreyan Military. Until Clara, not the Impossible Girl, but just Clara Oswald – socially clumsy, foot permanently wedged in her mouth when not in the TARDIS Clara – piloted the TARDIS accidentally into that barn, not only giving him that dream of fear that was the apotheosis of his very character, but the vision of the blue box that may well have influenced the chameleon circuit when landing in a junkyard in London in the 1960s. As I saw someone put it, “It seems that throughout the many projections of Clara that have influenced the Doctor's life, the one that mattered most in the end was still the Clara.”

     This is the strongest episode so far of the new series, possibly one of the strongest episodes of the entire relaunch series. Given the chemistry of Capaldi and Coleman, I'm hoping that this is the point where the new series gels, where everything comes together, and we get some of the best science fiction that we've had in years.

I just hope the Chalkboard plays into the finale. It's my favorite character so far.

Next week: Ocean's Twelfth

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday Night Scottishness

So, tomorrow is the vote for Scottish Independence. I shall not say much about it other than to briefly state that I am for it.

However, in the spirit of both wanting to inform AND entertain you  (it looks like Von's column is gone for the forseeable future), I now present to you two humorous opinion pieces about how Scottish Independence may be a good thing, or a bad thing.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Scottish Independence

Up to a Point: A Free Scotland Would Be a Hilarious Disaster by P.J. O'Rourke

Featuring this money quote:
You can be sure Scotland will have armed conflict of some kind (“bang-bang” as we pros call it). Besides internal feuds, Scotland is perfectly positioned between two hostile powers—England and Norway, who aren’t going to let those North Sea oil fields go without a fuss. Scotland will be Pakistan with exposed knees.

Now, go forth and make your own informed decisions (not that it's up to us in America anyway).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another Fill-in over at BCP

Today is Lokidude's day in the barrel, so I covered for him with a handy little article about fixing crimps in hydration bladder tubes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

In which I do math

I am abominably pleased with myself right now.

I was reading an article about black holes, quantum tunneling, Hawking radiation, etc., and in one of the comments someone explained that the thing which made black holes special was density, not mass.

This got me to thinking: Well, what IS mass, and how is it substantially different from weight?  I mean, weight only exists in a gravity field, but mass doesn't have that limitation.* So I retired to the Porcelain Throne of Philosophy and had a good think over it.

I came to the conclusion, on my own, that mass had to be a function of both density and volume. I'm not entirely sure if I can explain how I came to that conclusion, but it had to do with feathers and lead and varying volumes of same.

After leaving the Chair of Contemplation, I googled my phrase and found a link to Wikipedia where it explains that density is defined, mathematically, as mass divided by volume.

Even my rudimentary math skills allows me to solve 
"If D=M/V, then M=DV."

I worked it out on my own and I was right! This is noteworthy because while I can do arithmetic and some very light algebra, usually in forms of balancing equations, after that I'm essentially innumerate.... which is odd because I get concepts just fine, but they need to be explained to me in English instead of with numbers. 

You can't explain things to me with math. You just can't. My eyes glaze over, everything turns beige, my brain makes a noise similar to a 250 Hz Sine wave, and I start to drool slightly at the corners of my mouth. 

This is why math was such a struggle for me in school:  I never fully understood why things were the way they were. It would often take 10-15 minutes to get me to understand a concept, and the class would get restless so the teacher would basically just go "It's this way because it's this way. Next!"

So when it came to math more advanced than arithmetic, I just black-boxed it all from rote, and then promptly forgot it once I graduated because I never fully grokked the reasoning behind it.

And yet here I am, having figured out a math problem using logic instead of numbers. I'm so pleased with myself. 

Meanwhile, all the engineers are looking at me as if I finally managed to tie my own shoes....

* This led to a perhaps amusing discussion on Facebook which can be summarized thusly:
  1. Pounds measure weight, not mass. 
  2. Kilograms measure mass, not weight. The proper SI unit for measuring weight would be Newtons. 
  3. However, the entire freaking world uses kg to measure weight because it's a nice round number. 
  4. If we used Newtons to measure weight, it would result in un-round numbers, (because the force of gravity is 9.81 meters per second squared) and a 1 kg mass would weigh 9.81 Newtons. Heresy! Blasphemy! Everything in SI must be measured in tens!
  5. Clearly, someone needs to invent Metric Time and calibrate it such that 1 G of acceleration is 10.0 meters per metric second squared. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #4

In which I talk about the multiple uses of paracord, and a great way to keep a small supply constantly on hand foot.

You can listen to the podcast here, and the show notes may be found here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

SHTFriday squared: G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm Underway

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
As of 7:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time, a coronal mass ejection, produced by an X1.6 flare 2 days ago, struck the earth.

The resulting geomagnetic storm is currently a G3 (strong intensity), which can cause power grid fluctuations, voltage alarms in high-latitude power systems, and possible transformer damage if the storm is of long duration. Electrical systems may require voltage correction, and false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.

However, there is a slight possibility it may rise as high as a G4, which can potentially cause "widespread voltage control problems" and "some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid", which could mean localized blackouts or rolling brownouts.

While I do not feel we are in any danger from this, now would be a good time to check your preps. Make sure you have plenty of water on standby and that your flashlights have fresh batteries. 

Check the Space Weather Prediction Center for more information as the situation progresses. 

STHFriday: Reviewing the Swiss Volcano Stove

If all you have is $20, it's not bad, but you can do so much better for not much more. 

If you want to know more, go read the review over at Blue Collar Prepping

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Robin Hood: Thief of Time

As we set this high-precision time capsule to “1190 ADish”, please be aware of spoilers.

Mark Gatiss is one of the most frustratingly inconsistent writers for Modern Who that I can think of. When he's on, he's on. When he's not, the episode either lands with a dull thud or crashes and burns horribly. Series 1's The Unquiet Dead remains one of my favorites, while The Idiot's Lantern is painful to even think about. Victory of the Daleks was amusing, but responsible for bringing us the Power Ranger Daleks (who have been mysteriously absent of late). Night Terrors was creepy but forgettable. Cold War is one of my all-time favorites of the new series, and The Crimson Horror is terribly underrated. And Gatiss is great at bringing a wonderfully creepy performance when he's acting, as when he was playing Professor Lazarus.

So we come to Robot of Sherwood, what I feel is the first mis-step of Twelve's tenure. It's a hallmark of Gatiss's bad stories that a hundred good ideas are thrown in front of the camera and aren't given enough time to gel. There are so many things about this episode that I liked, which makes it even more infuriating that it just didn't work for me. The return of The Chalkboard. The self-healing panel on the TARDIS exterior. Clara being an absolute fangirl of Robin Hood. Twelve performing a brief moment of Venusian Aikido, part of a strong and clear channeling of the Third Doctor throughout this entire episode. Jon Pertwee could have easily been spliced in and this story still work (at least to the extent it did).

Image courtesy BBC
 Capaldi's performance is, again, a joy to see. The early sword-fight scene, with Twelve squaring off against Robin armed merely with a spoon, allowed Capaldi the chance to express some of The Doctor's perennial madness. The same with his continued fixation with pulling out people's hairs, and his insistence that he “is totally against bantering,” only to deliver some of the finest bantering the series has yet seen. But... Gatiss really could have used someone putting the brakes on him at some points in the script. The bantering was good, great even, but went on painfully long at times. At some point, it crosses the line between quality banter and comedy posturing, and I really wish someone had pointed out where that line was to Gatiss before I ended up slouching in my chair, visibly cringing.

  The spaceship and the robot knights were yet another beautiful nod to classic 80s Who. If the episode had taken place a year or two earlier, there would have been some quasi-mystical fairy-tale explanation, and I really think I prefer clunky robots and spaceships with hard lines and (cheaply)clean interiors. I really wish we'd spent more time exploring that aspect of the story than with the comedy posturing. Or with Ben Miller's Sheriff, who cringingly devoured the scenery like he was in a charity pantomime. The Sheriff felt like an unfortunate throwback to the worst part of 80s Who villainy.

Clara's proving to be ever more competent and clever, and her chemistry with Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor is far better than it ever was with Smith's Eleventh. She's really coming into her own as a character now that she's been able to step out of the shadow of The Impossible Girl.

Previous episodes so far have dealt with Twelve's self-doubt as to whether he's a good man or not, but have done so in very subtle, quiet moments. The ending of this episode was rather ham-handed about it, with Robin nearly rattling off a show pitch. In contrast to Clara's poignant statement about what's really important, this one's about a subtle as a baseball bat. Charged with stellar energy. Beating a Dalek to death. And speaking of the ending, as Erin is well aware, my brain is very, very good at “Whosplaining” how something might work when it might not make complete sense to other people, especially Doctor Who's long and constant line of alien tech, temporal paradoxes, and sideways universes, but even I can't figure out how firing a gold arrow into the side of a spaceship is going to cause a power surge capable of boosting engines to escape velocity. I can't even figure out how you can fire a metal arrow (even a lightweight metal like gold) from a regular bow, at a ship accelerating towards escape velocity and manage to even come close to hitting it. That arrow should be in the moat. And don't say Sonic Screwdriver. THE BOW IS WOOD. Even I'm not buying that one.

Next Week: Under-the-bed Ankle-grabbers. Oh dear.

Because I cannot allow today to pass without saying something.

Remember, remember, 11 September,
Jihadist murderous plot.
I see no reason why mujahideeners*
Shouldn't be hunted and shot. 

* [sic]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gunblog Variety Cast now on iTunes


This way you can subscribe with your iDoohickey and you won't miss a single episode of my dulcet tones vibrating through your ears and into your brain meats.

Monday, September 8, 2014

S#!t Hits The.. Monday?

I'm filling in for another Blue Collar Prepper who has a serious case of the Mondays.

You don't have to be a rich Doomsday Prepper to have preps. Here are 10 that will fit any budget.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Gunblog Variety Podcast #3

In which I opine about the multiple uses of trash bags as a low-cost, low-weight prep.


You can listen to the podcast here, and the show notes may be found here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Doctor Who Into Darkness

     Ok, it's not actually called that, but that's what I'm calling it anyway. It's what the workprint was labeled (not that *I* watched the workprint, mind you), and I like it. Better, at least, than Honey I Shrunk the Doctor or Journey To The Center of a Dalek. Last week's episode, like so many Doctor-Introductory episodes, was rather weak in the story department. Being a self-confessed fanboy, I squeeed pretty hard, and liked the overall tone of the episode, but the story itself took much too long to get started, and could have been wrapped up more quickly. Onto this week, with a full spoiler warning, as usual, starring the TARDIS chalkboard and Clara's Mom Jeans.

     The Human/Dalek wars are something that's been touched on a few times throughout the series, from the invasion of Earth in 2150 to the imprisonment of Davros in the Fifth Doctor's era, but we rarely get a good look at it. Mostly because a war between Daleks and Humans is expensive, and the show's never had a very high budget until very recently. But Doctor Who Into Darkness shows us what some of those old episodes could have looked like if they'd had the budget.

Image courtesy BBC
     This is an episode which shamelessly cribs from a myriad of other sources both in its own lineage and outside of it, and it does so artfully. It feels like a more visceral version of “I, Borg” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's a perfect companion piece to Series 1's “Dalek.” Scenes from this episode, especially the Dalek assault on the ship's bay, look like how my mind's eye remembers seeing some of the Fifth Doctor's episodes, specifically Resurrection of the Daleks. So many parts of this episode look like they were filmed by someone who wanted to recapture some of those old episodes, and as a fan of the classic series, I found that strangely comforting.

     The Doctor has a line, very early on, that sets the tone for the episode (if not his entire character). “She's my carer. She cares, so I don't have to.” Twelve's demeanor is coalescing into a very gruff and dismissive interior masking someone who really is trying to help, whether his intended recipients want it or not. He's a man whose intentions are more important than your hesitation, and his mind works on too fast and on a scale much too large. A companion is probably more important than ever, if only to make him stop and consider the consequences to those around him and act as a translator. And I can't be the only one noticing that he's not careening around the console anymore, instead confidently and calmly throwing a single lever, flipping a lone switch to command the TARDIS. It's almost like he's got a much stronger connection to her now. The banter returns. Twelve and Clara's interactions continue to be a highlight, particularly his Straxian comments about Clara's appearance.

     I like Danny Pink. I sincerely hope that he comes aboard the TARDIS at some point, given the Doctor's blatant distaste for soldiers that's expressed several times throughout the episode. Danny's character, so that we've seen so far, is defined by being insecure, sensitive, and a soldier himself, and I think it might provide an opportunity for growth for both Danny and The Doctor, especially if Clara is orchestrating it. The Doctor's always been against soldiers and warfare in general, and I think it comes through even stronger in this episode given his recent trip through both Trenzalore and his re-visiting the biggest war the universe has ever seen. I also think they're playing it up even more this season to act as a contrast to Danny, and I think we'll see him change his mind, at least a little, later on.

     Atmosphere is where this episode shines, though. It's all mood lighting and tubes and steel surfaces and massive computer equipment, and the soundtrack veers wildly between vintage 80s Who and the more modern Murray Gold scores.

     One last thing that I will credit this episode for: I was absolutely sure that this was aiming for another terrible “Power of Love” ending, much like previous episodes like Fear Her, Closing Time, The Lodger, Last of the Time Lords, and nearly every time the Cybermen have shown up in the new series. I was wrong. It led me on right until the last possible moment, then twisted my expectation like a punch in the gut.

Next week: Think I can't find anything to complain about? Watch me turn practically Scottish for Robin Hood.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Still Alive

Sorry, been having some health problems lately.

Still interested in blogging, but haven't had the energy or felt well enough to write.

Hopefully, blogging will resume soon.

Thank you for your patience and your continued readership.

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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