Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.

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“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90’s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)

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The experience was remarkable.

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The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.

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The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:

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To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.

“Smart” Guns

My lovely wife points this out.

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The pistol itself is pretty. It has lovely lines and is pleasing to the eye. Although I’d like to get on board with the whole idea of techy guns, I live in real life. Jennifer brings up the question of batteries, which is a good one. When you need to charge or replace the batteries in your watch or gun, does that mean that the gun isn’t available for defensive use? Damn, someone is breaking down the door, but my gun is on the charger with my phone and e-cig! The question of batteries only scratches the surface of the fail here.

The concept of my gun only working for me is a lovely one I guess, but I know that two out of three printer drivers won’t work on my laptop’s OS to send print jobs to the laser printer. The one driver that does work doesn’t like certain image files or font sets.

I know that there are movies that won’t play on our Blu Ray player unless we have the latest firmware, and it’s difficult to predict when it will happen. What happens when your pistol needs a firmware update? Cleaning guns is one thing, but how would you like the routine of clean and download/install firmware?

Sometimes our router crashes and our network fails to network. I know how often I have to restart the router because the network has crashed. Better not have a gunfight during an update.

Remember sliding a cartridge into your Nintendo only to have the game not boot properly, and trying it all over again? Ever blow into the end of a game cartridge to dislodge offending dust particles? Kids, ask your parents. It would be a crap ton of bad luck if you feared for your life and had to reboot your gun. That’s just a smidge more than rack-tap-bang. Try blowing into your gun to see if that will fix it. There are people out there that only carry DA revolvers because the reboot process consists of simply pulling the trigger once more.

There are many of us who can’t wear a quartz* watch without it going dead. Does the control watch itself have EM shielding? Are the electronics in the watch and pistol water/shock/freeze proof? A gun that shorts out and won’t work in the rain is as useless as a paperweight.

As a kid, I remember playing with remote controlled cars and planes with my friends. You couldn’t run more than two at a time, because of RF interference. It would be embarrassing at the range and deadly in a struggle if such interference locked up the gun. I need to defend my life against this bad guy, but I can’t get too close to wireless device because my gun won’t work there.

With any device that has complications that may cause failure, users must be diligent in confirming function. Does owning one of these guns necessitate a home range with a backstop so you can fire one off before you holster it for the day? You know, just to make sure you don’t have to reboot it or reestablish the link to the watch so you know that it will actually go bang instead of locking up like a blue screen of death.

Just as many people carry revolvers as opposed to semiautomatic pistols, the more than century-old semiautomatic shotgun has not eclipsed the pump-action or break action for home defense, sporting purposes, or range time. This is because in the case of a defensive weapon, or any life tool for that matter, simplicity is king. We pull the lock flags out of our S&W revolvers so the mechanism won’t lock up and brick our guns when we’re at the range, in competition, in the field, or defending ourselves. If we hack a pistol such as this so it’s functional without its activation watch, we risk giving ammo to a prosecutor. Remove and/or bypass the electronics in this beauty like we mod an Xbox for better function, and a jury of your peers will hang you. I don’t even particularly like electronic sights, because as useful as they may be, the fear that they may fail jaundices them to my eye, and the likelihood is far less than the failure of the can of worms that this pistol system is.

I fear that legislators are pushing for technology such as this. If we were ever put under such onerous encoding, what would become of legacy guns? Would they be grandfathered or would we be required to retrofit or simply ordered to turn in our dumb guns? I shudder to think of the sight of my S&W M29 with some retrofit device bolted to it. And, many of us have guns that represent historical significance or family heritage and it would be many levels of natural crime to deprive us of them, even if these pieces never fired another bullet downrange for the rest of their future existence. This is the essence of the danger of people who don’t have any knowledge of gun culture or gun function getting into gun design or legislation. They outlaw the shoulder thing that goes up or mandate fictional technology that optimistically is dodgy in its execution.

No thanks. I carry a polymer frame pistol. It has a flashlight on it. That’s about as high-tech as I’m going to get with it. Whenever something like this comes up, we must be diligent to stomp it out like stray embers from a camp fire. Because, just like so many stray embers can burn down the forest, high-hope technology like this threatens our culture and our literal survival.

*edited for spelling

Economic Personal Armory

I mused a bit of a thought experiment with Jennifer over the weekend. When we purchased the vast majority of our guns, we were cumulatively making fairly decent money. We weren’t at all wealthy, but we had the bills paid off and there was enough left over to play. As such, each of our first guns were revolvers out of Smith & Wesson’s custom shop. Indeed, we invested in some very nice defensive and sporting pieces. It’s no secret that things have been significantly tighter over the last few years. I posited that if we started now instead of then, our accumulation of arms would look significantly different. I thought that this was interesting enough to write up here. The three major defensive/utility gun configurations are commonly accepted as the handgun, either semi-automatic or revolver; a repeating rifle, usually in a carbine length, and a repeating shotgun, usually with a barrel length between 18 and 22 inches. In a life or death fight, we use our handguns to get to our long guns. If the fight is a close-range one, use the shotgun. If there’s some distance in the fight, use your rifle. Rule one in a gun fight is have a gun. A hand gun is the gun you have on you, and is therefore the beginning of the conversation.

When I made the decision to carry concealed, I decided that my 6.5-inch .44 Mag with factory hand engraving was ill-suited to the task. So, I picked out a S&W 586L-Comp as my carry piece. Since I tend to be an ambidextrous shooter, I bought a second 586L-Comp to carry as a backup, in a mirrored holster. Were I to arm up today, there is no way that I’d purchase a matched pair of Performance Center revolvers for concealed carry. That much money can be spread over entirely too many bills and debts for that. I did wind up with a M&P45c for daily carry, but I’d likely go with something more economical than that even. I’d more than likely pick up a used Glock 22 or 23. Jennifer asked me, “why .40?” This is an excellent question, as we don’t have anything in the house chambered in .40S&W. The primary reason we don’t, is that we have 9mms and .45ACPs. No matter how careless you (or your guests) are, you will never get a 9mm cartridge chambered in a .45. There are things one caliber is good at that the other isn’t, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with .40 that you can’t with either 9mm or .45ACP. However, if you could only have one gun, .40S&W is a longer-range cartridge, is far more compact gun frame than .45ACP, and is deer-legal in Oklahoma from at least a four-inch barrel. Glock models in .40 have been so ubiqutous that used varieties can easily be found for less than the $500-mark with a lot of life left in them. They’re cheap and easy to get accessories for, and their magazines are interchangeable with some non-Glock models.

This leads us to defensive carbines. Jennifer and I each have name-brand AR-pattern carbines in 5.56 NATO. Even though we love our little M4geries, I would not purchase one on the budget that I have today. Frankly, they are overpriced. Sure, a basic model doesn’t command $3,000 as it did for a weird four months or so of the Obamascare, but even what is commonly sold as a $800-$1,200 rifle is often an assortment of parts that should cost more like $500-$600 in a fair and unbiased market. This goes for AK clones as well. If a decent gun could be had for $300-$500, then everyone should have one. With the prices they command, I believe I’ll still pass. If I were purchasing my defensive carbine in today’s market, I’d be looking at Kel Tec’s Sub2000 in .40S&W, or perhaps a Hi-Point carbine also in .40S&W. Either one will happily share magazines and ammunition with the aforementioned Glock models. *01/22/2014 – EDITED FOR CORRECTION – Cyberludite points out in the comments that Hi-Point carbines do NOT in fact use Glock magazines. I’m not sure why I was thinking that they did, but I was indeed guilty of being a guy saying something wrong on the internets. Thank you Cyberludite and I’m sorry world.* I would most likely stock up on a few of the 22 or 29-round magazines, as well as shave the grips down on both guns so they would be short enough to accept Glock 27 magazines too. Although .40S&W isn’t the long range shooter that 5.56 or 2.23Rem, out of a 16-inch barrel (or 17.5, in the case of the Hi-Point), it’s producing more energy than 9mm, and it can reach out further than .45ACP. Again, this rifle configuration would be legal and effective against Oklahoma white tail.

Jennifer and I love our Winchester pump actions. This is like being a Studebaker fan. Most sane folks justifiably choose a current offering from Remington or Mossberg, or perhaps one of the high quality semi-automatics. I wanted an old Defender, and when I couldn’t find one, I basically built one out of a 120 Ranger, which is a variation of the Winchester 1300 platform. I left the vent-ribbed barrel at 22-inches and added a magazine extention. After the fact, we managed to find a lightly used Defender for Jennifer. These things tend to be relatively inexpensive, and also tend to be pretty solid guns. Expect to see workable examples in pawn shops for $200, give or take $50. If I didn’t have my Winchester, and was looking to score a house gun, I’d probably get the cheapest used Mossberg pump I could find that was still serviceable, chambered in 12-gauge. Jennifer suggested a police retired Remington 870 as an option. Remington’s 870 is a fine gun in my opinion, at least as good as the old Winchester 1912, 1200, or 1300 pump actions, but even used and beat up, they tend to command a price that would buy two or three similarly worn Mossburgs. Indeed, I’ve seen Mossies in pawn shops priced close to $100 if not less. If it has a long barrel on it, chop it down within the legal minimum limit of 18-inches. I like my shotguns at around 20 to 22-inches, because this seems to be a pretty good compromise between payload velocity and keeping the gun maneuverable. Whether it has plastic or wood furniture, it will still put lead downrange. Whether it has a super long eight-round tube magazine, or a four-rounder with a plug limiting it to two rounds, training and practice will make it work just fine. When you practice and get good at feeding rounds in through the ejection port, you’ll find that the missing two or three rounds of magazine capacity will not be your bottleneck on shooting speed over the course of 25 to 50 rounds of ammunition.

In such a hypothetical situation, I probably wouldn’t worry so much about a backup handgun, but would focus my attention on making sure that my primary was in excellent working order at any given time. However, if I were to add one as a fourth gun, I’d probably be just as likely to choose either the cheapest, serviceable, used Glock 27 (for magazine and ammo compatability), or a .38Spl snubby in whatever brand was available. Although I do love my S&W revolvers, they tend to be expensive, pulling in close to $500 for even the cheapest of the J-frames. Conversely, I’d be looking at whatever used examples I could find from Taurus, Rossi, Charter Arms, and probably a few others, just as long as the timing was right, and the cylinder locked up satisfactorily. But even then, this would be way low on my list of must haves, as I feel that the expense would be better spent on practice ammunition and training.

Previously, I would have said that a .22lr, either rifle or a high-quality pistol would be a must-have in such a setup, for practice, training, and for small game hunting. But recently, it’s been so hard to come by .22lr ammunition, that I’m not convinced it would be well-advised. For the going rate of .22lr when you can manage to find it, you can hand load any common centerfire handgun cartridge for less money, so there’s not a significant cost savings if you have access to reloading equipment. Small game that can be taken with a .22 can also be taken with lighter 12-gauge loads, or even some centerfire handgun loads.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation but you started out with a revolver instead of a semi-auto, you might consider a lever-action carbine in the same chambering as your wheel gun. There’s something about ammunition commonality that is quite charming and useful. Frankly, it’s kind of weird that Jennifer and I have not wound up with any lever actions in .357 or .44 Magnum yet. Just as the pump action shotgun, with practice, these can run really fast and accurately. A .357 Magnum load out of a carbine-length barrel can get close to actual, rifle cartridge velocities, which puts it at an advantage over the .40S&W as discussed above. Plus, your .357Mag lever gun will shoot mouse-fart .38Spl wadcutters just as happily as your revolver, making it equally effective for small game hunting or paper killing.

At any rate, we do live in interesting times. It is my hope (and frequent prayer) that we’ll see real improvement in the economy. For those of you who may be trying to cobble together a defensive system under a serious budget duress, I hope this proves useful to you. Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll do my best to round up the answers. If any of my readers have anything to add, I’d love to hear that too!

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.

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And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.

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I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.

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I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.

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I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.

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When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.

Hawk Ammo – First Impressions

I’d like to take a moment to introduce Hawk Ammo.

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This is a brand new ammunition company that was started earlier this year by Jeffery Havard, an old friend of mine. His goal is to produce match-grade ammunition at big box prices. He dropped off a box of 20-rounds of .45 ACP for me to review several weeks back, and I have not had a chance to go shooting since. This is a shame, and I wanted to at least give a preliminary look at what he’s doing and what he provided as an example. His boxes may not have the foil-embossed, multi-color print that Federal and Hornady employ, but don’t let the humble monochrome packaging fool you.

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He’s started with brand new Starline brass,

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and stuffed it with 185-grain Gold Dot hollow points.

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He lists a box of 20 .45 ACP hollow points loaded for self defense at $18, which puts it toward the cheap end, if the quality is what it appears to be, which I fully expect.

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It may have to wait until after the first of the year, but I will carve out a little time to run this stuff into targets and across the chrony, and I’ll have more to say about it then.

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Personally knowing Jeff’s attention to detail, I expect no surprises here. I predict that these will be consistent and accurate. But, that proof will have to wait for another day. You can check out his website, or shoot him an email if you have additional questions.

FDE Is the New Black

It’s the new fad anyway. And, I don’t say that disparagingly. I think flat dark earth is cool when executed properly. You all know of Jennifer’s famous pistol.

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Heck, some of my favorite customers have FDE guns.

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And of course, Jennifer has been working on building her new rifle, based on an Aero Precision lower receiver finished in flat dark earth.

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She will certainly have something posted about her progress soon. I will throw in that this stripped lower is top notch. From what we can see so far, these things are hard to beat for the money.

But still, as cool as FDE guns are, this is a current trend. It’s a fashion. I suspect tack blactical will always be with us, even as manufacturers taper off their offerings of other trendy colors, just as automotive manufacturers tapered off production of tail fins as though they were an embarrassing piece of the past to be ashamed of. My parents once had a refrigerator in harvest gold that they had purchased new. Almost twenty years ago, it was still running like a top, but was horribly out of style. so, they had it refinished in white. It has since died and been replaced. A good refrigerator will last decades. A good gun will last several lifetimes. As people accumulate guns in pink, purple, flat dark earth, and olive drab, as opposed to the classics in stainless or blue, black and wood, will they ultimately fall out of fashion and look gauche or do these trendy colors have staying power?

In twenty years, will we see people painting black over their FDE guns? I certainly hope not! As I previously stated, guns last a long time. What is trendy today will fall out of fashion and look hokey; this is inevitable. However, let time continue to do its work beyond that, and it will come back around and rather than unfashionable, these guns will suddenly become retro. Jennifer and I nearly bought a house that had a complete kitchen straight from the harvest gold era. Only, the appliances were olive green. The tile was brown and the cabinets were all walnut stained. Although it was very dated, it was well done and clean enough to have charm in its apparent age. Had we purchased that home, we probably wouldn’t have changed a thing in the kitchen.

I didn’t have much experience with guns in FDE when OldNFO opened up his Pelican case of toys and pulled out his FNP45 Tactical. It was a full-on assault on the eyes. Although the action was tight, and the gun had an overall feel of quality and competency, it was that weird color: not quite brown, not quite green. He commented on how much he hated it, but not because of the color. It was because of the decocker. You can carry the gun cocked and locked, but as an avid 1911 shooter, OldNFO would hit the safety hard enough to decock the gun, defeating the purpose of carrying it ready for an initial single-action shot.

Contrary to his personal code, OldNFO sold us that gun, and Jennifer has loved it for the last two and a half years or so. I eventually got used to the color scheme. It’s gotten comments from fellow range patrons, blog meet goers, gun manufacturer reps, and others. In our stable, it is joined by Jennifer’s new rifle project in the same color scheme.

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There is not a doubt in my mind that these will go out of style and look goofy next to more classic offerings or whatever the new trend turns out to be, but I’m at complete peace with that. Just as it’s a conversation piece now, it will be a conversation piece in half a century, or probably even more so. Besides that, it’s fun to talk about an evil black rifle that isn’t black. Indeed, the next rifle I build will probably be in a funky color instead of Scary Black. Keep on buying those funky colors, and carry them proudly, even when they’re no longer cool!

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Sadly, Ruger has already abandoned the gold anodizing on their 22/45 LITE in lieu of a more easily marketable black anodizing. I will still cherish my obsolete gold model though, complete with the pink ivory grips I made to fit it. So, to celebrate the trends that will almost certainly fall by the wayside, I write these words while wearing my pale tan western boots with brown lizard wingtips. Where did I put my disco shirt anyway?

Of Operating Systems

For weeks now, those of us who are lazy unfortunate enough to have been using Windows 8 have been looking forward to the first update, Windows 8.1. The upgrade was free, and the yes-men reviewers on the interwebtron have been crowing about how wwwwuuuuunnnnndddeeerrrrffffuuuuullll it is. And, hoo-boy! Let me tell you what! When I went to my laptop yesterday morning, it notified me that it had installed updates. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I thought maybe the OS fairy had updated my computer. But no. So, after pawing around the ‘net, trying to figure out how to install this thing, and after a couple hours futzing with it to convince it to download and install, I booted up into Microsoft’s latest creation. It was at least two hours, and seemed significantly longer, but regardless seems entirely too long for the download and install of some 3.5-ish gb of an OS upgrade. I seem to remember that I used to download and install a far more full-featured Debian system in a fraction of the time back in the day. Regardless, I started poking around at the new features. Perhaps this is worth a review.

Windows 8.1 gets a good solid ‘meh’ rating from me. Apparently the ‘.1′ means ‘NOW WITH START BUTTON! AGAIN!!!’ in Microsoft-speak. At one of my day jobs, I had a supervisor who had me log into one of their brand new laptops to complete some kind of work training program. He asked eagerly if I had yet used a Windows 7 machine, which I told him that I had not. He told me an overview of what my task was and to his surprise, I performed the action as he started to explain the steps, despite the fact that my M$ experience was only as recent as XP.

“I thought you said you hadn’t used 7 yet,” he noted incredulously.

“I haven’t,” I shrugged, “it’s just more Windows.”

Seriously. They didn’t label the ‘start’ button as such and the interface was slicker. It ran the same anyway. When I got my last laptop, it shipped with Vista. XP to Vista? Yawn. Vista was bloated and buggy, but otherwise basically a slicked-up XP. Vista to 7? The latter works better, but it’s mostly just an ironed out version of the former. The transition from 7 to 8, I was nervous about. For no good reason, I might add. I found that since I only run 8 in ‘desktop mode,’ it’s basically the same but without that button and a start screen instead of a start menu. I’m not sure what I expected from ‘.1,’ but I guess significantly more than the return of THE BUTTON. And, since this isn’t really long enough to be a stand-alone review of 8.1 (which looks like ‘B.J.’ at a glance), I may as well just rant on about the common operating systems in general.

Windows is like your basic white bread. Virtually nobody really likes it, and it’s not really worth what you pay for it, but it will make a sandwich for like 99% of the people and institutions out there. It’s relatively cheap and easy enough. Mac OS, on the other hand, is like the mass-produced baguette-bread you might get at some hipster coffee shop chain. It tastes marginally better than the M$ white bread, but it’s stupidly overpriced, and the people who habitually eat it think their farts don’t stink. If you use Mac OS, it doesn’t make you look nearly as cool and interesting as you think it does. So sorry. Linux is like all the ingredients you can buy at the grocery store to go home and bake your own bread. You stand there at the check out counter with your flour and eggs and whatever else goes into the recipe, stupidly grinning at the cashier with the anticipation of how delicious and healthy your bread will be when you get done with it. If you have acquired the knowledge and skills, and if you put in the time and effort, that’s going to be some dang fine bread for sure, made to your specifications. Most of us have neither the time nor patience for that nonsense. Even Ubuntu, arguably the easiest Linux distro is like getting the packet of ingredients that you mix up and throw in your breadmaker. I haven’t found it to be worth the effort for the returns.

So, I’ve been using M$ Windon’t variants. For a while, I did dilly dally with Linux, and still admire it as an OS, but it just takes far too much work to get to where I want it to be. My KDE desktop environment (meta redundancy deliberate) was prettier and faster than anything M$ or Mac available, on half the hardware. And then, I’d go and edit some config file, crash the thing, and wasn’t smart enough to fix it. Weeks of work down the drain and out a computer to boot. Pun much intended. There are even a couple of iThings in the house that we spent some time playing with in the past. We begrudgingly use Windows because the OS market kind of sucks. Either you’re a serious DIYer, or you buy from the box whichever of the big boy is the lesser of two evils.

Why isn’t there a basic, affordable organic market bread OS out there? It would be totally great if there was one that was as configurable as Linux, as robust as the more obscure ‘nixes, as easy as Windon’t or Mac OS, that would run basic programs, and would behave with whatever hardware combination out of the box. If Android was developed into something that most people would want to use on a desktop system, then maybe it might fill such a hole in the market. My guess is that it would be far more likely to just turn out like a clone of Mac OS or Ubuntu instead.

I guess the major take away from this rant is that operating systems pretty much suck in general. Hardware is gaining speed at an alarming rate, but the software isn’t reflecting that progress. We can look around and marvel at how sophisticated technology is, but without the software to back up the hardware, we’re spinning our wheels in the long run. A friend of mine was a programmer in the old days. His school classes taught him that the computers only had so many resources, so you had to program lean to stay usable. Then one day, this guy Bill Gates came by and said that all these computers had to be faster to run this new whiz-bang thing that he came up with. And, here we are.

Somebody out there, someone smarter than me, get off your butt and get to coding already.

p.s. – This morning, I had to restart the network card in order to connect under 8.1 this morning, just as I have routinely had to do under 8 point nothing. So many dazzling improvements…

Ammo Durability

Since I started my life with guns, I’ve been told by instructors, fellow shooters, and everyone in between that you must cycle out your carry ammo every few months. It was explained to me that temperature shifts and moisture that your carry ammunition is subjected to will destabilize the ammo, compromising its reliability.

Last fall, Teen Bot dropped a Ruger 22/45 magazine at the farm that was loaded with ten rounds of CCI Quiet. This magazine remained lost until Jennifer found it under some grass that one of my cousins had recently mowed. The magazine was dirty and rusty. I had my son clean it up at home, and then on a whim I dusted off the ammo that had come out of it, and loaded those same ten rounds back into the magazine. I really expected failures. Here’s the video:

Please do not in any way take this as advice to not change out your ammo. I am still a firm believer in keeping your carry ammo fresh. However, it makes me question the popular wisdom that you can’t get your ammo wet, and it will go bad if subjected to temperature swings. It was my understanding that centerfire ammunition is quite a bit more durable than rimfire. If this is the case, that 22/45 magazine has me questioning the reality of carry ammunition durability.