Saturday, September 29, 2007

After a week away from work, I'll say this: now I know why I don't take vacations. I've been bored all week. I don't travel anymore, and I really don't much care for even driving out of town. I won't take the train, either, as one trip from Chicago to Springfield sucked enough for me to rule future use of our rail system. Yes, I am judgmental like that. From now on I'll stick with going to work every day unless I'm sick or need to be away from work for other reasons.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bowling Night, 9/20/07

Last night wasn't great, but it wasn't bad, either. I started trying to fire more double-tap shots than normal. It's not perfect, since I have to ensure I don't let the trigger go fully forward. There's a point where the trigger goes forward and the sear resets. Eventually I'll have that "sweet spot" on the trigger memorized and my times should start dropping. Other than that, I did okay for Production. One of the competitors in Open Class (where you get to do all kinds of custom work to your gun, run red-dot electronic sights, and there's no real limit to your magazine capacity) ran through the stage in eight seconds flat. It would have been much slower if he would have had to stop to reload during his shoot. The shooting was good for everyone last night, though, even if you had trouble with your gun.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How much do we know about American Civics?

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative education think-tank, regularly puts out a list of US universities who perform a great disservice to students by not reinforcing the lessons learned in previous grades regarding US History and Civics. I've always considered Civics to be sort of a catch-all category, as it takes lessons from history, economics, and government classes and puts it all together to show the effect of these things on a US citizen. It can get watered down sometimes. Anyway, ISI has put up the Civics quiz they gave to college freshmen and seniors. It's 60 questions, multiple choice format.

Take the quiz.

I missed 1 out of the 60 myself, the question regarding the Federal Reserve purchasing government bonds. I scored a 98.33%. The average Harvard student? 69.56% for the average student there in regards to the basic knowledge of our nation.

Thankfully I didn't miss any in the American History section. The sad thing is that the history and current events and basic economics in this quiz should be known by heart to college freshmen. They should know the philosophical foundations of the Founding Fathers, and why it led men like Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. They should know what problems occurred during America's first years that led James Madison write the Constitution. This history is our inheritance. It's our precedent to know what to do and what not to do to make our nation more successful. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a history teacher when I was in college. If I could make this knowledge second-nature to every student of mine, I'd have given them a foundation to know why our United States are great and why it matters for us to preserve it. I don't think that's what schools are looking to pass on to students these days if this basic quiz is any indication. It's almost like we spend more time praising those who dissent without ever looking at the cause for the dissenting opinion. Only half of the story is told, and when that happens ignorance reigns.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy 60th Birthday to the United States Air Force.

I may only have fixed avionics systems when I was in, but it's still 4 of the best years of my life. I'd do it all over again if need be. The general staff finally added extra training to Basic, reflecting the change in battlefield tactics by our enemies. I remember most of the junior enlisted asking why we didn't have more base ground defense training, why we didn't have more range time. I also remember that being ignored as it wasn't a mission priority. I'm thankful that attitude has changed. Carry on, Airmen, and serve our nation proudly.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I just got back from the range, which was very crowded this weekend. It seems a bunch of college students decided to come in and learn the ropes of basic handgun safety. Good. There wasn't any macho posturing, it was all "keep your mouths shut and listen" type of training. Sure they compared shots, but they did so safely and carefully. It's nice to see someone come to the range and find out that they're a better shot than they thought they were.

I managed to grab a lane and load up. My Springfield XD40 is still in good shape, and I managed to keep almost all of my shots in the "A" zone of a standard IPSC target at 7 yards. Some were just flyers I didn't control as well. They hit the IPSC target, just not in the highest-scoring part of the target. For further assistance, I tacked up some 8" diameter bullseye targets. I kept most of them in the center, though I could see that after about 50 rounds I was pulling low and to the right. That meant it was time for the XD to go back into its case while I brought out my other handgun.

My other handgun is a Smith & Wesson model 649. It's a five-shot revolver in .357 Magnum. The barrel is pretty short as well at 2 and 1/8 inches. It's got a shroud that covers the hammer so it can be drawn more easily from concealment, but still allows you to pull the hammer back and fire single-action shots if you like. That configuration is what S&W calls a "bodyguard" configuration, and it's no surprise that the original version which was (.38 Special only, not .357/.38 like mine) was marketed towards bodyguards and other personal security types.

Now, .357 Magnum is known for having a kick, especially in small revolvers like mine. The .357 was designed back in 1934 as an answer to FBI and police needs to shoot through the engine blocks and bulletproof glass of its day. Either way, the .357 is designed as powerful ammunition, and is very good for personal defense.

So I warmed up with a few rounds of Remington .38 Special. I'm not very happy with this ammunition as a round for my revolver because it throws out a lot of flash. The powder doesn't burn completely, it seems. If anything, the tiny black sight on the 649 made me happy that my XD40 has a sight that is at least slightly more visible in low-light conditions. If I modify my 649, it will be to get a high-visibility sight installed. I managed to keep most of my shots inside the 8" target. Short-barreled guns like the 649 aren't designed for long-distance shooting, they're designed for about 7 yards at best for us lesser beings, though a skilled and well-practiced shooter can make the gun effective out to 25 or so yards.

So next, I fired off ten rounds of .357 Magnum, from Speer's Gold Dot line of personal defense ammunition. The bullet size, a 135-grain jacketed hollow point, and the powder were designed to create a good balance of speed, stopping power and less muzzle flash. Less muzzle flash is good for low-light conditions since it won't affect your night vision as much. One thing I noticed about the Gold Dot bullets compared to other .357 Magnum rounds is that the opening of the bullet is much wider than other jacketed hollow point rounds. Hollow points are designed to expand, so the Gold Dot probably starts out wider to help jump-start the expansion when it hits. The Gold Dots are my standard .357 round, so I used those as a base line for testing out another brand of ammunition. These rounds will cause the 649 to jump more compared to the .38 rounds. The flash wasn't super noticeable like the .38s, and the recoil is solid but not uncontrollable. Again, I got a decent enough shot out of 10, though only one of my ten-ring shots grazed the bullseye. My first string of 5 shots was double-action only, and the accuracy was okay. Not great, but okay. The second string was 5 shots using single-action. Single action shots are easier, if only because you don't have to fight the heavy trigger pull (2 pounds of force compared to about 11 pounds for double-action). I did substantially better, with four of five shots going into the 9 and ten rings. The fifth flew off to graze the bottom of the target. I flinched on that one. Overall the Gold Dot ammunition is good self-defense stuff.

I had that as my baseline. Now it was time to compare something to it. So, I looked along the shelf of the ammo counter at the range and found Black Hills 158-grain jacketed hollow points. How would it fare compared to the specifically-formulated-for-snubnose-revolvers Gold Dots? I decided to give it 15 rounds instead of 10. 10 would be shot double-action and five would be single action. My first double action shot was about 95% in the bullseye, but even with my single action shots I never got in the red again. I was expecting a lot more flash from unburned powder, and possibly even a lot more kick since these were for use in any .357 revolver. I didn't get blinded by the flash and could reacquire just as fast with the Black Hills as I could the Speer ammo, and there was no perceptible difference in the recoil. I was expecting the heavier bullet to generate more pressure and maybe cause more recoil. That wasn't the case.

Upon comparing the targets I noticed that the wider openings of the Gold Dot bullets made a larger hole in the target than the Black Hills. My guess is that expansion would start much faster had I hit a solid target because of the increased surface area. That's also something to think about when considering self-defense ammunition. What stops your opponent faster? The kinetic energy of the bullet or the tissue damage from the more rapidly-expanding bullet?

The final comparison is price. It's around $25 for 20 of Speer's Short Barrel Gold Dots, and about $19 for 50 Black Hills Jacketed Hollow Points. Black Hills wins that easily.

So let's summarize it.

Price: Black Hills wins here.

Flash: No discernible difference.

Recoil: No discernible difference.

Extras: The Gold Dots start out making bigger holes.

The Black Hills 158-grain Jacketed Hollow Points are a cheap and effective alternative to Speer's Short Barrel Gold Dots.

Other things found out at the range: shooting with a bunch of new shooters is fun, and high-visibility sights would probably improve the 649 for use in darker conditions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

There's no Bowling Night report this week. I didn't feel much like going. This weekend, however, I'll probably wind up at the range to test out some various types of ammunition. I want to see what works best in my guns.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I want to ask my readers to take some time to pray today if they're so inclined. Pray for peace, pray for successful conclusions to our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and pray for everyone who has lost a loved one due to this war. We've had lots of victories in both countries, and slowly but surely we are seeing that yes, nations can be governed by something other than violence and oppression in the Middle East. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are capable of joining the outside world without the constant threat of violence from their own government. Neither of the two new democracies are perfect by any means; there is a level of corruption in the governments that most people in the US don't recognize. I see Iraq as having a Chicago-style government at the moment. Instead of ward bosses and neighborhood associations we've got sheikhs and other tribal leaders each with their own ideas on how things are to be run. Replace "ward" with "tribe" and you'll see the similarities. If ward bosses dealt with food and power distribution, we'd probably see something similar to what is seen in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

I don't mind so much that these two nations haven't gotten past this stage just yet. It's going to take years for people to understand that they no longer have to fight for every scrap of basic necessities. Living under regimes like Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and the Taliban made people fearful, forced them to justify their existences on a daily basis to their rulers. You don't replace that kind of conditioning quickly or easily.

We found connections between Hussein's government and al-Qaeda, tenuous as they were. Members of a totalitarian state's secret police don't just take a few weeks' vacation on a whim in order to pursue their life's dream of being a driver/bodyguard for the head of an international terrorist group. Blind eyes were turned to training facilities being used for more than just government operations. We overestimated the WMD threat and caught the Baathists while they were still in the planning stages of rebuilding an arsenal, and found caches of chemical weapons that went unfound during the post-1991 inspections scheme. Thankfully they'd started to degrade. We were very lucky to catch them early and disorganized.

For anyone complaining that there's no separation of church and state here, try living under the Taliban. You have some serious perspective problems if you think that you live in a theocracy because most members of Congress are regular churchgoers. I'd love to say they've finally learned a few of the lessons being taught, but Congressmen are human, too. Too bad their slip-ups can cost taxpayers so much and damage the morale of our armed forces while they're serving. Regardless, the threat to people's very rights to speak freely is blown way out of proportion these days. If it was that bad we'd see all the websites whose authors are critical of the President being shut down by the government.

It's staggering to see the number of changes in life from six years ago today. I remember the lack of urgency regarding national defense, the carefree attitude from the day before. Some of that joy has returned, thankfully. There's less sense of complacency that we'll always be safe and secure without having to lift a finger. There are more people who will stand up to defend their neighbor, even when said neighbor is rude and insulting. There's a larger number of people who understand that the security of their nation starts with them, not with their government.

Until we all see the scourge of terrorism reduced and contained, the least we can do is pray.

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Which I Say Something Honest About My Literary Background

Apparently I'm one of the few people in my circle of friends who wasn't all that impressed when reading A Wrinkle In Time in first grade. I had no problem with Isaac Asimov, loved reading Joseph Wambaugh, and enjoyed reading many technical manuals on how to operate heavy machinery such as cranes and other construction equipment. Madeline L'Engle, though, I just did not dig her writing. I read it, put it back and went on.

I've also realized that as I get older I read less fiction and less science fiction. The last two fiction novels I read were part of John Scalzi's current sci-fi series starting with Old Man's War. I was done with those books in a night each. They weren't too bad.

Something killed my desire to read fiction, most specifically fantasy and sci-fi. I'm not sure what it was. I know it wasn't The Three Musketeers that did it. I can re-read that book. I can read history books and classics and plow into them with no troubles. Even ancient stuff like The Odyssey, Herodotus' Histories, Livy's History of Rome, and Discourses on Salt and Iron makes for a good read for me. Modern fiction leaves me flat, sadly.

Hmm. Maybe it was William Gibson's Idoru that did it. I don't think I've ever finished that book. I think it might have been the only cyberpunk/ post-cyberpunk book I've never read in one sitting. I love that genre, the whole melding of human and machine, the tribalism that comes from a breakdown of the good society, the justifiable paranoia of living in a world where being watched is one part control and one part entertainment. There was always something in the background that said "despite this, we will adapt to it and overcome." Somehow, the desire to read anything new died out. At some point, nonfiction became more entertaining. I know many people first found a love for reading through L'Engle's books, and for that she deserves her Newbery Award. She didn't have much of an effect on my reading when compared to some of my peers. I don't begrudge the effect she had on others, though I do wonder why it didn't take with me. While my peers were reading A Wrinkle In Time, I was busy finishing The Choirboys.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bowling Night, 9/6/07

The first match of the month is a qualifier at our shooting club. This helps to determine your skill level at IPSC matches and in the case of the serious competitors, national rankings. If I was near that level I'd be quite happy, that's for sure. Most clubs will have a qualifier match once per month. The only way I can really describe them is that a monthly qualifier is like haiku; the stage is short with little or no room for wasted ammunition, it goes by fast and requires a lot of skill to do it well. As for me, I shot my usual fair-to-middling match. I've got quite a few more qualifiers to run before I can see if I can go up to a higher skill rank.

The ranks for IPSC and USPSA (the US governing body for IPSC matches; dozens of nations have similar bodies) are Grand Master, Master, A, B, C, D, and U. U is Unranked and is for someone who hasn't shot enough qualifiers for a proper average yet. I'm at Rank D. As the matches are timed, you have to find a good balance between accuracy and speed to get the highest scores. I can hit nothing but perfect shots, but if I take 15 seconds setting up a shot I'll lose the time factor that's critical to a good score. Likewise, I can blaze through a match in 8 seconds, but if I miss half my shots my score suffers. Rank D is usually the slow but accurate crowd, which is a majority of the new guys. I'm not happy with that level of skill so I use every non-qualifier match as a chance to increase my speed with my accuracy, get more familiar with the pistol that I'm using, and get a good feel for how I'm reacting to the situation provided by the target setup.

I get more chances to qualify later on in the year at gun clubs around the county. I've been thinking about taking the drive out to one and see if I can increase my rank through more practice.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Celebrating the end of Summer, 62 Grains at a Time

I headed over to the local indoor range and finally got a good sight zero on my AR-15. The front sight adjuster works like a charm. I had no problems trying to move the front sight post. At 25 yards it shoots where I point it. At 50 yards, however, I still need some more work. Rifle shooting may have a lot of similarities to pistol, but the distances traveled make precise breath control and trigger squeeze even more important. Moving even half an inch to the left can mean the difference between a perfect shot and a missed opportunity. I'm also trying out using a sling to remove some of the body's natural shaking when you stay still. It's a great help as it keeps you on target longer. One thing is for sure, though, and that is that I need more practice. I think between using the AR and the .22 I've got plenty of chances to become a decent rifle shot. Once I do that, then I can start playing around with different bullet wights and lengths to find a .223 cartridge that I and my rifle both like. The 62-grain full metal jacket round is pretty nice. I want to try some heavier rounds and some soft-point or hollow-point rounds to see how they react to my shooting.

Shooting is an expensive hobby, but it is never a boring one.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I didn't go shooting Thursday night. I got home from work and didn't want to move out of my chair. Some nights I'm ready to go out and compete and some nights I'm not. I'd rather miss out a night of shooting than show up and waste ammo because I didn't listen to my body. Ah, well. Tomorrow is Labor Day, and I will be making a trip out to one of the ranges out here. I need to get a good sight zero on my AR-15, as well as doing some more target shooting with the old .22 rifle. I also might take the revolver as well. I have a lot of .38 Special to burn through, and I think that firing it outdoors will probably be better than firing it inside. It's rather dirty ammunition, leaving a lot of smoke in the air.

Eh, knowing me I'll sleep until noon and spend the afternoon on the internet reading the news. It's a holiday.