Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Big Trip: El Paso

Made it to El Paso last night. Took about 10 hours total, including the time I wasted by locking my keys in the car at a truck stop in Fort Stockton. But Mazda Roadside Service sent a nice man with tattoos on his face to get the car open, and I was on my way.

This is the first time I've carried a loaded gun with me for any reason. It gives one a peculiar sense, which is nothing like invincibility. In fact, during those 10 hours on the road I thought a lot about what kinds of situations would call for me to draw the weapon and what kind wouldn't. Would I know the difference? Would I be able to act in time? Was I capable of firing if I had to?

I think if the answer to any of those questions is "no" then a person shouldn't carry a gun. Odd as it may sound, there is a certain feeling of security in not carrying a gun. You're never forced to make any of those decisions, or to even think about them. Carrying a deadly weapon is a huge responsibility, and it's much easier to turn that over to someone else. The problem is, if there is no one else, you're stuck. There are parts of the interstate where a cell phone won't work, and there are some unfriendly people out there.

Anyway, on to California today. Somewhere around the AZ border I'll stow the weapon in the back. Parts of eastern California have relatively lax gun laws, but it's not clear where that applies and I don't want to take a chance. I need to get as close to L.A. as possible tonight. Another update at the next stop.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gun Guys: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The Gun Guys (why do they call themselves that?) use an example of an accidental shooting to make their point:

That is the case with this story out of Arizona:

A Sun City woman, a gun enthusiast, was killed Sunday in an apparent accidental shooting while her boyfriend was handling a loaded weapon, authorities said Monday.

Susan Noben, 54, was pronounced dead at her home in the 11600 block of North Desert Hills Drive, said Detective Aaron Douglas, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Investigators believe Noben was shot once while her boyfriend was handling one of many weapons in her house, Douglas said. The weapon turned out to be loaded, he said.

We don’t like to be cynical, particularly when a person is shot, but wouldn’t you expect that in a house with two gun “enthusiasts,” one of the guns might, well, just be loaded?

These sort of incidents put a dent in the gun lobby mantra of gun worshipers always being “responsible” and accident proof with their weapons.

This is an example of poor judgment on the part of a gun owner, true enough. But nobody claims gun owners are accident proof, only that they are in fact actually responsible. Lots of people have accidents of all sorts who are responsible. People make mistakes. What is the solution offered by the "Gun Guys"? They don't offer one.

Since they don't offer us a typical idiotic solution that we could demolish, lets demolish the idea that guns are bad because people have accidents with them. From one of my favorite sources of facts about guns: guncite:

Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, 2000 (Estimates) (Chart compiled by GunCite. Source of data, except as noted, National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2001 Edition, pp. 8-9, 84)

Given that there are over 200 million firearms in the United States, and given that 16,200 people died in this country in 2000 due to falls, I'd say that legitimate gun owners were remarkably responsible.

Gun Guys Yet Again

We have this fine report, thanks to the gun guys:
Some choice quotes from a South Carolina newspaper, “The Herald” about the availability of AK-47 assault rifles:

David’s Pawn Shop [advertises] the weapons on its marquee, “AK-47s Now In Stock.” Owner David Dresner said he started selling the Romanian-made weapon recently… “We’ve sold a bunch of them,” Dresner said, estimating he sells four or five AK-47s each week. “I’ve been surprised at how well they’ve sold.”

Dresner said the AK-47 he sells is a semi-automatic rifle just like the ones used by Iraqi police allied with U.S. troops in the Middle East. It looks similar to the famed Russian AK-47, a fully automatic machine gun made popular during the Cold War.

But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction:

Locally, Lt. Les Herring of the Rock Hill Police Department said several shell casings from the high-powered rifles have turned up at crime scenes recently.

First, we'll ignore the fact that these are not assault rifles. An assault rifle is a select fire (meaning can shoot both semi-auto and full-auto) rifle that fires bullets from an intermediate powered cartridge.

Just so people reading here know what we're talking about, lets have a look at the "power" of various rifle cartridges (typical) starting small and working our way up (data from www.remington.com):

1. .223 Remington / 5.56 Nato - used in the M16 and AR-15 - an actual Assault Rifle round. Some typical values:
Bullet weight: 55 grs (grains)
Muzzle Velocity: 3240 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 1282 ft-lbs

2. 7.62x39 - used in the AK-47 and SKS - an actual Assault Rifle round. Some typical values:
Bullet weight: 125 grs
Muzzle Velocity: 2365 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 1552 ft-lbs

3. .30-30 Winchester - used in the Winchester model 1894 - arguably responsible for the most deer taken in the United States by hunters than any other cartridge. Fairly low-powered among modern hunting rifles. Considered by many to be underpowered for Elk hunting.
Bullet weight: 150 grs
Muzzle Velocity: 2390 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 1902 ft-lbs

4. .308 Winchester - used in the M1A, the modern version of the M1 Garand, and in the M24, which is the standard sniper rifle used by the US Army. Also a very popular hunting and target shooting cartridge. Excellent cartridge for deer, elk, and black bear.
Bullet weight: 180 grs
Muzzle Velocity: 2620 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 2743 ft-lbs

5. .30-06 Springfield - used in the M1 Garand in WWII, the US Army's standard infantry rifle of the era. One of the most popular hunting rifle cartridges of all time. Excellent cartridge for deer, elk, and black bear. This is what my Grandpa hunted with:
Bullet weight: 180 grs
Muzzle Velocity: 2700 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 2913 ft-lbs

6. .300 Winchester Magnum - Very popular big game hunting cartridge. This is what your humble author hunts with. Excellent cartridge for deer, elk, black bear, moose, and adequate for grizzly bear:
Bullet weight: 180 grs
Muzzle Velocity: 2960 ft/s
Muzzle Energy: 3501 ft-lbs

The last three of the six cartridges listed can be considered "high powered." Let's have a rundown of the muzzle energy (how "power" of a cartridge is typically measured) of those cartridges:

1. .223/5.56: 1282 ft-lbs !! Assault Rifle Cartridge !!
2. 7.72x39: 1552 ft-lbs !! Assault Rifle Cartridge !!
3. .30-30: 1902 ft-lbs
4. .308: 2743 ft-lbs
5. .30-06: 2913 ft-lbs
6. .300wm: 3501 ft-lbs

Now remember that when a gun-grabbing idiot talks about "high powered" assault rifles. Especially when they talk about the DC-sniper shootings. The survivors of those shootings owe their lives to the fact that the snipers were NOT using high powered rifles in their attempted murders.

The Big Trip

Update below: major shift in plans!

I've decided to take a Big Road Trip by myself this summer -- next week to be specific -- and would like to solicit some reader advice.

First leg of the journey: Austin, TX to La Grande, OR.

Second leg: La Grande, OR to Seattle, WA.

Final leg: Seattle, WA to Vancouver, Canada.

This is the route Google Maps suggested for the first part of the journey. (I have done this exact route in reverse with my husband.) Here's an alternate route -- it's a little longer, but maybe it has advantages?

Here's the info I need:

  1. Is there a better route than the one Google Maps has suggested? I've done the Seattle to Vancouver route a million times, so I'm more concerned with the initial part of the journey.

  2. What are the safe limits to hours of driving per day? I can easily handle 8+ hours of continuous driving (minor breaks for fueling and meals). Is 10 hours feasible? 12? What are the best hours to be on the interstates?

  3. What should I do if my car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? Fortunately, it looks like my cell coverage includes the majority of the route. I think I have roadside assistance through my insurance. But general advice about what steps to take and what to watch out for would be helpful.

  4. I'm thinking strongly of taking my .45 on this trip, since I'll be a gal alone on the open road. I'll be checking packing.org for state laws, but please feel free to offer your $0.02. Any advice for someone packing heat for the first time on a road trip? I'm driving a Mazda Miata, so my concealment options are rather limited.

  5. General advice? Anything I haven't covered here?
Update: My advisor has talked me into attending a symposium at UC-Santa Cruz at the last minute -- how can I turn down three days at the beach all expenses paid? -- so I am taking this route west and will probably stay on 101 going most of the way north with a stop on the Oregon coast somewhere. Then I'll take this route on the return trip. I can carry my .45 through TX, NM, and AZ, but I gotta pack it up at the USSR CA state line. (Kevin, if you're reading this, I wish I could stop and say hello, but I will be blasting through all the way to L.A. from El Paso, which is gonna take me 12 hours as it is. You're probably buried in work anyway.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

6 Movie Formulas That Must Be Stopped

Continuing with the open letter to Hollywood theme, a movie lover at Cracked.com pleads for the demise of a few well-worn movie formulas. My favorite:

#2.Father Is Wronged by Gang; Kills Entire Planet

Who Did It Best: It was a tough call between Man on Fire and Death Wish, but we're giving it to the latter for it's slightly more totally insane approach. Sure, Denzel was undeniably badass and efficient with his killing spree, but he only brought justice to those who directly wronged him. Death Wish, however, has Bronson killing the rapists who killed his wife, criminals who want to mug him, and finally, other jerks that just look like they some day might think about mugging someone. For blurring the line between vengeance and genocide, (venocide), Death Wish takes this one home.

Incidentally, I broke my vow to stay away from the movie-house, sorta. Hubby and I went to see Transformers this weekend at one of the Alamo Drafthouses, which doesn't allow wee children, is patronized by people who are either too civilized or too inebriated to make any commotion during the movie, and has rows of seats so far apart that you'd have to have legs 10' long to kick the one in front of you. This is probably the solution to my theater-going blues. (And Transformers rocked!!)

Carnaby's Comment: WTF? They left out the real #1, which is the "Retarded Heist Film." If I ever see another film (not actually view the film, only see that there is a film) about a bank robbery or some other pathetic heist I'm going to barf. And I'll call this one... Best heist film: Heat, on account of all the guns and shooting with good technique and so forth. Worst heist film: wait for it, you can taste it... Heist. One of the few movies I had to turn off before it was over .

That and the most stupid movie of all time with Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones. It was so stupid I turned it off after 25 minutes and I don't even remember the title. Hmm, IMDb says it was The Hunted. Super barf. Now there's a formula they should have killed before it ever got started, the "Most Stupid Movie Ever" formula. Just like in the 100m dash, you never think anyone could ever go any faster, or make a movie more stupid, and then they do it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Yet Another Ego Post

In case you don't already know more about your bloggerette than you want to. Uncle has tagged everyone for an "eight habits or eight facts about yourself" meme...
  1. I don't go to the range very often, but I keep buying guns. I have nine so far. Two still haven't been used.
  2. I held five powerlifting records in Canada as a "junior" competitor (under the age of 23). I think those records still stand.
  3. I had a pet python when I was in high school. His name was Ecthelion. I couldn't bring myself to feed him live food, so I'd use chopsticks to shove raw meat and vitamins down his throat. He terrorized my family by escaping from his terrarium multiple times. I gave him away to a good home when I went to college.
  4. I am a night owl, but I get that seasonal depressive thingie if I don't get enough sunlight.
  5. I am the only person in the whole world with my first and last name. My last name is very old and legally protected in Scandinavia, which means you can only acquire it through birth, marriage, or by gaining the permission of every single living person with this last name. I did the second option. My first name isn't all that popular in Scandinavia*.
  6. I am related to the Swedish royal family by marriage.
  7. I sing very loudly to my cats every day. (They're so cute when their eyes get big and their ears go back.)
  8. I do almost all of my reading in the bathtub or in bed.
We're supposed to tag eight people for this, but I'm lazy so I pick carnaby, Kevin at TSM (when he gets back from Bagdad), and Rusticus at Solarvoid.

[* OK, nevermind, turns out my first name is popular in Sweden. It's in the top 100, tho' spelled a bit differently. But nobody with that first name has my last name. So whoop dee do!]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heaven and Hell

Learned this from a Japanese friend:

Heaven is...

an American salary,
a Chinese cook,
an English house,
and a Japanese wife.

Hell is...

a Chinese salary,
an English cook,
a Japanese house,
and an American wife.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Little Bit of Stickwick

Idea stolen from KdT who stole it from Norman Geras:

A three-minute history of Stickwick: I was born in Oregon in 1971. My parents, who were agnostic socialists at the time, moved us to Canada after the Vietnam War was over (the after part is important). I stayed there until I was 26, and decided to move back to Oregon. Half of my family is still in Canada. In Oregon I met the best man I've ever known. I am now married to a Finn who was in the Special Forces and remains a soldier at heart. I have learned that being married to a Finn builds character. I got a physics degree in Oregon, and then moved to Texas to get a Ph.D. in astronomy/astrophysics. My topics of interest are quasars, supermassive black holes, and giant galaxies. I'm currently in my last year of study. I converted to Christianity last year, and am now a Lutheran. I want to do most of my future work with the church. After graduation, I plan to teach astronomy part-time, but devote most of my time to bringing Christians back to science.

Why do you blog?

As a personal outlet for my $0.02. To meet people. To have my ideas about things challenged as a check on self-delusion.

What has been your best blogging experience?

Arguing with Kevin from The Smallest Minority over religion and philosophy.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger?

Seein' as I'm still a novice blogger, I dunno. Probably to write much more often than I do. In fact, write something every day.

What are your favorite blogs?

Libertas, Michelle Malkin, The Smallest Minority.

Who are your intellectual heroes?

My father, C. S. Lewis, D. G. Garan, Gerald Schroeder, Thomas Sowell, Dinesh D'Souza, Maimonides.

What are you reading at the moment?

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Two Towers, G. K. Chesterton's What's Wrong With The World, P. J. O'Rourke's Holidays In Hell, and Ralph C. Wood's The Gospel According to Tolkien.

What is the best novel you've ever read?

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. My dad began reading it to us when we were kids, and the story helped me form my ideas about morality, even though I didn't really think of it as anything more than a great adventure story at the time. But every time I read it I discover a whole new layer to the story. This time around I am discovering its deeply Christian nature.

What is your favorite poem?

"O vis Aeternitatis" by Hildegard Von Bingen (rendered as a really cool song by Garmarna).

What is your favorite movie?

The Empire Strikes Back. Not only is it the best of the Star Wars movies, it's a fantastic movie in its own right. The Cloud City scenes blew me away when I was a kid in 1980, and I never got over that.

Who is your favorite composer?

Oh, geez. This is difficult. Probably Mozart. Then Bach. Then Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and Basil Poledouris.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind?

I was anti-Christian in my youth, and then became very sympathetic to Christianity many years later. I finally converted last year.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate?

That of God's love for humanity. Specifically, the Judeo-Christian thesis that each human is a purposeful creation and endowed with inherent worth.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?

Secular humanism.

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world?

C. S. Lewis' collected essays in The Joyful Christian. Lewis is an intellectual giant, and part of what makes him so is his ability to present an idea so simply, in such a straightforward common-sense way, that you can't understand how you didn't see it before. Whereas I don't think I had a clear idea of what the rules and purpose of life were prior to reading Lewis, I think I have a better handle on that now.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be?

Drastically overhaul public education or abolish it altogether. In its current incarnation, it is less than useless. I teach astronomy classes at a large and "selective" university, and yet most of my students come to me terribly unprepared intellectually and with a warped view of America and the world. Children received better education back in the days when all they learned was reading/writing and doing figures.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President, who would you choose?

Thomas Sowell.

What would you do with the UN?

Dismantle it. At best it's corrupt; at worst, it's a malevolent force in the world.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

Secular humanism. Without its tendency to weaken people intellectually and spiritually, we could easily combat other, more ostensible threats such as radical Islam.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Let love (agape) be the motivating factor and guiding principle in everything you do.

Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own?


What do you consider the most important personal quality?

Love (agape).

What personal fault do you most dislike?

Laziness -- it's one of my biggest faults.

In what circumstances would you be willing to lie?

To save someone's life.

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?

Unfortunately, to some extent, I have a prejudice against my own sex -- we need another women's movement, a much more positive one than feminism. I also can't stand fat kids, the hip hop culture, and anyone who has anything to do with pornography.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Well, besides blogging... reading, watching movies, embroidery, road trips, cooking.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time?

Video games.

What, if anything, do you worry about?

My own health and that of my loved ones.

If you were to relive your life to this point, what would you do differently?

Move to the U.S. as soon as I graduated from high school, be chaste, save money, finish my undergraduate degree five years earlier, and learn another language fluently.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?

A young Meryl Streep or a talented unknown.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be able to sing or play an instrument well.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job?

I'd love to run a small restaurant or inn.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist?

P. J. O'Rourke, James Lileks, and Patrick F. McManus.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

C. S. Lewis, Ronald Reagan, and Larry Thorne.

What animal would you most like to be?

Something really cool and symbolically free, like a wild horse or an eagle.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Amateur Astronomers Needed

Can you tell the difference between a spiral galaxy and an elliptical galaxy? Can you figure out which way a galaxy is rotating?

Spiral galaxy NGC 4414 (HST)

Elliptical galaxy M87 (CFHT)

If so, astronomers at Oxford need your help classifying millions of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Kevin Schawinski, an astrophysicist at Oxford University, UK, is one of the team who devised the project.

"I classified about 50,000 galaxies myself in a week," he said. "It was mind-numbing."

He's hoping that involving the public will speed the work up.

"It's not just for fun," he added. "The human brain is actually better than a computer at pattern recognition tasks like this. Whether you spend five minutes, fifteen 15 minutes or five hours using the site, your contribution will be invaluable."
I use the Sloan Digital Sky Survey for my thesis work and have inspected tens of thousands of quasars and galaxies in short periods of time. It is mind-numbing. But inspecting a few hundred in a leisurely way is actually quite a bit of fun, and you could find yourself becoming a galaxy junkie in no time.

If you think you've got what it takes, why not join in?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Range Day!

Finally, a range day! I took my Ko-tonics AR-15 in 6.8 spc and my Savage in .300 Win Mag to the Renton Fish and Game Club. Nice range, and it goes out to 200 yards. I don't have the pics on account of I'm lazy, but I was getting consistent groups in the 2" range with both rifles at 200 yards. Good enough for me. All my ammo is hand loaded and is superb. Here's a pic of the AR, since I never did post one since I built the new upper.

Note the home-made muzzle device (no it's not a suppressor, since it has no baffles and the rifle is just as loud with and without the device attached). Pretty snazzy.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Dear Movie Theater,

I'm very sad to tell you this, but I'm breaking up with you. I appreciate the offer of Transformers and Die Hard 4, but I think it's too late now. For most of my teen and adult life I faithfully visited you at least once a week -- I'd take any excuse to go to you -- but you stopped courting me years ago. I feel like I'm being used, taken for granted. The romance is over. You've offered me almost no movie magic in the last 10 years. That's bad enough, but with your high ticket prices, ludicrous snack prices, the commercials, the smell, the crunchy/sticky floor, the cell phones, the loud talking, the kids running up and down the aisle, the seat-kicking -- that's it. I've had it. I have no desire to be with you anymore. You lost me, and I've found someone else. He's not nearly as charming and exciting as you were in the beginning, but I need something to ease the loneliness. It's a big plasma screen TV with surround sound. With my shelf full of DVDs at home (mostly from those early, exhilarating years of our relationship), I'm committing myself to my home theater.

If you ever want me back, you'll have to change. You'll have to show me that you care, that I mean something to you. Until then, it's good-bye.

Stickwick Stapers