Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Laptop Car Mount.

10/24/11 NOTE: I've had  a lot of people tell me to patent this. Guess what, there's no point in trying to patent innovation as a concept. If you want to know how I made it in more detail, just ask. My only request is that when asked, you tell people who told you how to make it in the first place.

Hi everyone. As some of you may have heard, I decided that I wanted a way to access my laptop in my car, van, or the company vehicle while I am on the clock. My reasons are several.

First of all I would like access to my audio library, not only do I not always like what is on the radio, but I have a library of audio books that I like to listen to when I am out in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time.

Second, when I'm not driving, there are posts I work where movies are allowed, so having the laptop gives me that bonus as well.

Third, part of the nature of security is having to write reports, and my hand writing is bad on a good day. Add in a cramped vehicle compartment, fatigue and frustration, and I can turn out some serious chicken scratch. With my laptop, I can hammer out what I need in just a few minutes with the right forms.

 What you see below is the mock-up. I have made a few changes since then, but the overall design is the same. It sits in the passenger seat, and a strap goes around the headrest and the top of the mount. The T at the bottom gives it stability, and the jointed arm lets me move the laptop more or less wherever I want it. The good thing about this is that it is mobile between cars, and it breaks down to a small carry bag when the segments are pulled apart. The drawback is that it completely occupies the passenger seat, so a police type mount it isn't. When I have the laptop strapped in, The arm sags a little, and I almost wish I had used 2" pipe for the body, as opposed to 1 1/2", but the sag isn't a lot, so I am optimistic. I still need to get a strap for the top part to lash to the headrest, but that should be a small matter after the paint dries.

 As for cost, It breaks down like this:

Most commercial models were better than $200, some as high as $500, and that includes a few temporary models that clamped down in the seat.

 Parts, glue and paint all together were $39.00, and so far its taken me about 2 hours of work in my kitchen. (I would have been outside, but it got late, and cold, really fast).

 The final product will be painted mat black for two reasons. One, this is going in my car, and I don't need something bright and shiny distracting me. Two, PVC breaks down in sunlight, so I need to protect it, and a few good coats of black outdoor paint will do the trick. And then of course, cool military/special forces/police/special agent type stuff is all black, so black has to be a cool color, right? I've also had a few people ask me why I don't bolt it down to the floor. That answer is simple, as I said before, I have a couple of vehicles I want to use this in (including a few I don't own), so bolting it to anything kind of defeats the purpose. Also, my car is old and getting older fast, it might well die before any part of the mount gives way.

This is the whole mock-up, held to the back of the chair with a bungee cord. The arm is jointed (read: flexible) at the back, the elbow and the end where the mount is. So it can reach a full 40" out from the center at full extension. The large Pipe is 1 1/2" schedule 40 PVC pipe from local Lowes. The rack for the laptop is 1/2" schedule 40 PVC pipe. The stem where the rack locks into the arm is a 1 1/2" x 1/2" PVC bushing.

This is a detail of the arm. The vertical pipe at the back and in the middle of the arm is not glued, and I even hand-sanded it down some to make sure the arm could bend properly. The bushing at the left side of the image is glued in the large Ell, as are both of the horizontal pipes.

A detail of the rack itself. Its kind of self explanatory. Though on the final product, I trimmed down the stem (the part that locks into the arm) to less than two inches, meaning that the small Tee in the middle and the bushing almost touch. When I loaded the laptop onto it for the first time, the stem flexed noticeably, so I decided not to take any chances. I'm going to use bungee cords to hold down the laptop once the whole thing is put together properly.

This is meant to show how much it can fold up, letting me keep the laptop out of my way when I'm driving.

This is the mount broken down into its component parts. I included the chair in the photo for scale so you get some idea of how big this is, and isn't.

This is a close-up of the same pile. All told, its actually very simple.

UPDATE: 11/18/2011

Just got the painting done. It still needs 24 hours to fully dry, but I needed to get it in from the rain. Here are two shots of the semi-finished product.

The white spots you see are areas where I sanded the paint away so that it wouldn't mess with the sliding of the joints. When the pain has completely hardened (24 hours) I will go back and completely clean out all the joints, they still bind some right now.

This is it with the arm fully extended, kind of gives you an idea of the reach I built into it.

UPDATE: 10/20/1022

Test run!

So, I finally strapped this thing into my wife's van so I could see how it handles. Take a look.

This is in the parking lot of a local video rental store. The laptop is pulled all the way back into the corner in this shot, like it would be if I wanted to get it out of the way, but still see what was on the screen.

In this one you can see it pulled all the way over to my steering wheel, the arm is almost maxed out this way, but it still reaches. As you can see, the whole assembly does sag a little, but some of that is actually the seat shifting under the plastic. I am definitely going to have to play with it some, but I do Like what I see so far.

This is the backside of what you see above. It shows a good view of the mount, the arm and overall how it works. It does wobble a lot when I type on it, but its not violent and there is no rattling, so I am  happy.

And has a final note, this whole update (three photos, and all the text, were put taken, uploaded and composed from the driver's seat of this same van, just to see if it could be done. (SCORE!). I'm going to call this test drive a win for the mount, and my scatter-brained idea.

UPDATE: 10/24/1022

Okay, I just got back from three shifts at work driving the company truck around. All told, I spent 28 hours in the truck, with my mount buckled into the passenger seat next to me. I must say that I am both impressed with how well it held up, and thinking seriously about what I would change about the next one I make.

On the good side: I am very happy with the flexibility of the design, and how easy it is to move between vehicles. It gives me the access I need to use the computer, while not making me turn my head ninety-five degrees to the left to look at it sitting in the seat next to me.

On the down side, the arm wobbles a lot, so typing is a slow process. I won't be composing any books on it, but I can fill out reports, which is what I wanted. Also, It sits high enough that leaving the screen up blocks a good chuck of my field of view. I didn't know what to expect with that, so I can't complaining too much. Its not like I need to see it while driving around, though. I sanded the joints down to help it move easily, but as it turned out, that was a mistake. The joints are so smooth and light that whenever I drive, the arm wants to flop this way and that on any hard turns.

Lastly, the laptop rack itself was a good idea, but I think there are better ones. After using it for a few days now, I realize that the computer is held too steeply, and actually using the keys is harder than when it it almost flat. I have some ideas on how to change that in the next design, but that is still some time off. Also, the whole thing is too high. I really need to drop it down about five or six inches so that its at a more comfortable level for me to access.

Still, all of that is really just a lot of nit picking; the design still rocks as a first-run prototype, and I am ecstatic to have it, (even if I only get to use it for another week or so, sigh).

I swung by a local Habitat for Humanity "Restore" and picked up a second-hand athletic bag for less than a buck (major score!), and the entire rack stores in there with room to spare. I make sure not to leave it in the seat when I'm not using it, but this is fairly easy because I can throw it in the bag, and the bag in the trunk in less than a minute.

When I'm driving around, the laptop lets me access all 50 gigs of my audio library, and the speakers let me listen to it. I drive a clunker with a busted radio and bad speakers, so my laptop is as close to a stereo as I can get right now. When I stop, like when I'm on the job, or even parked somewhere for a break, I can access any unsecured wireless hot spots, including fast food joints and public libraries. This means I can get a quick check of my e-mail or stuff like that. All told, the basic convenience of not having to put the thing between me and the steering wheel is  a quantum leap forward for me.

Final thought, for all of its shortcomings, the mount still well worth the $50 I spent on it.

This one definitely goes in the WIN column.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Submarines and Numbers

***Unapologetic Geek & Nerd alert!***
Read on at your own risk.

The other day I posted to Google+ that the United States could shadow every deployed element of the Iranian Navy without a major dip in its combat capabilities. This was in reply to an article that said Iran was planning to deploy its own navy more aggressively, and possibly "near American waters". I wasn't even remotely worried, not only is our navy larger, it is orders of magnitude more capable. My original comment was that the US could put one of its fast attack submarines on the tail of a Iranian surface ship and more or less blow it out of the water if it so much as shot a firecracker at a ship in international waters. The lopsidedness of such a pairing would be laughable if human lives weren't in th balance.

Well, that got me thinking (a dangerous development), about world navies and their respective naval powers. More to the point, I was interested in comparing their submarine forces, since Submarines are more uniform in their use than almost any other class of seagoing vessel. I ran some numbers, and then referenced them against the listed populations of each nation. I'll get to the relevance of that in a second, but let me show you the numbers.

First of all, a bit about the abbreviations.
SSN is the US designation for a nuclear fast attach submarine.  
SSBN is the US designation for a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. 
SS is the US designation for a conventional submarine.

The list below is hardly exhaustive of all navies. These were just nations that I happened to be familiar with militarily. The info was from Wikipedia, so we know there are some room for error to be considered. Second, I'm going to make some huge generalizations here. There are exceptions to these, I know, but still, I can't account for all of the nuances of the world submarine fleet in one blog post.

Nuclear fast attack submarines like the American Los Angeles class are long range power projection weapons. They are designed to leave American ports, submerge, and then not surface again until they came home three months later. They are large, heavy, and not as quiet as most modern conventionally powered submarines, meaning that some measure of stealth is sacrificed for range and endurance. Most current nuclear powered submarines that I am aware of are capable of firing guided missiles. The ability isn't necessarily innate to the technology, but a nation that can afford to build a sub-sized reactor has probably already fielded guided missiles.

Ballistic missile submarines are something of an odd-man out in this game. Ideally, they are designed to leave port and vanish for 3 months, doing nothing but hiding so that a foreign power will never precisely know where that segment of the nation's nuclear arsenal is. However, there is an increasing movement lately to use the stealth and experience of these ships and their crews to deploy special forces and carry cruise missiles as a conventional offensive weapon. Four Ohio class submarines have been so modified.

Conventionally powered (diesel-electric) boats are generally a defensive vessel. Their range, speed and endurance, size, payload and warload are almost always smaller than a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine. That's not to say that they can't be used offensively, but the limited abilities means that that type of activity would likely not the be norm, or would be accordingly scaled down in a modern conflict.

Now, lets look at the numbers.

Pop. / Submarine Population SSN SSBN SS Total
United States 4,398,746 312,311,000 53 18 71
China 20,298,861 1,339,724,852 7 4 55 66
Russia 2,977,192 142,905,208 20 11 17 48
Great Britain 5,660,182 62,262,000 7 4 11
France 6,582,189 65,821,885 6 4 10
Australia 3,786,397 22,718,381 6 6
Norway 831,500 4,989,000 6 6

First of all, The United States has the most combat submarines of any nation in the world. This makes sense since it is the most geographically isolated the world's major players, with the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between it an most of its principal allies. Its military doctrine has been centered on its ability to protect sea lanes, and project military force over water. The fact that all of its submarines are "fleet" grade nuclear boats also supports that policy.

China is the second highest number of submarines. But if you look carefully,  only 11 of those are nuclear powered, meaning it they have limited projection abilities.  But it you really want to compare numbers, look at the population per submarine. The United states currently has one submarine for every 4.3 million US citizens. Now, look at China. Their numbers pale in comparison. They have 20 million people for every submarine, and most of those subs are strategically defensive in nature. This shows a defensive Naval doctrine, one where a fight will likely be had in Chinese waters, and not the open ocean or off of another nation's coast. If you look at modern policy, and modern politics, that fits with what we know of china. Most of its adversaries share a land border with it, and in the grand scheme of things, it has limited military obligations or interests outside of that scope.

Russia is an interesting animal as well. First of all, a lot of their arsenal is upkeep and rebuilds of cold-war and 1990s era equipment built by the Soviet Union. But still, if you look at their numbers, its a telling correlation. Per Capita, they have one submarine for every 3 million people (2.9 if you want to get technical), and a full half of that is nuclear powered fast attack submarines. This shows a nation that wants to be able to project  its power and take the fight to "the other guy" rather than  hunker down in friendly waters. Again using the US as the benchmark, this is a nation with a more aggressive naval strategy and doctrine, and more intentions (or aspirations at the very least) for force projection.

On paper, Great Brittan (.062 Billion) has the same  "fleet" (nuclear) submarine force (though higher quality) as China 1.339 Billion) . Relatively speaking, this shows how unagressive China currently is with its navy, while Great Britain still clearly wants to retain some level of naval force. Still, per capita, The queen has fewer submarines than the US with 5.6 million people per submarine. Again, looking at the numbers, this is a nation that wants to protect its ability to use the ocean, but feels it has fewer obligations than the US. I hate to skip over France, but if you look at the numbers, the populations, and the boats, they are more or less in the same situation as England, with a force meant to send power elsewhere, rather than just wait for it to come to their coast.

I included Australia because I was interested in their situation. Militarily, there are very few forces in the world that pose a direct threat to the island nation, and no one realistically able to invade and occupy. Their submarine fleet consists of 6 conventionally powered boats, all built with western technology in Australia. Whats interesting  is that even though they only have 6 boats, if you math that out against their population, they are more invested in a strong naval defensive strategy than any of the above players aside from Russia. 3.7million people per boat. While their navy will probably never numerically rival America or China, when you consider their population, they are a nation that feels that a naval conflict might well come to them, and they need to be able to stand up to it.

Last but not least, Norway was a bit of a pleasant shock to me. I look them up because I knew they had a formidable submarine fleet for the region. What I found was a nation who's conventional sub force matched Australia's, and in terms of raw number of attack submarines, was also on a par with Great Brittan and France. All this from a nation that boasts 4 million people, just over 831 thousand per submarine. This is a nation that clearly feels like it needs to be able to stand up to some heavy hitters in order to protect its own coast. When you consider than they more or less exists as a next door neighbor to Russia, that postulation fits.

Now, part of the reason this comparison works is how specific the mission of the submarine is. Yes, the role of the sub has expanded greatly over the years, but in the grand scheme of things, it still has a very limited, focused role in modern warfare. Conversely, the flexibility and power most modern surface ships has diversified almost beyond belief. The size of a ship today has far less bearing on its firepower or function that it did in times past. Classifications like frigate, destroyer and cruiser are now pointless, with modern navies increasingly equipping all of their ships with guided missiles and powerful radars. Where twenty years ago there was a single ship for nearly every purpose in the US navy, the word stage today is based more on adapting and modifying. A destroyer could be doing the work of a cruiser one day, and then loading refugees from a war torn nation the next, and then ferrying special forces for a helicopter raid on the third. That really is where we are with it. As such, looking at and evaluating a Navy's surface fleet is a lot more dicey than looking at its submarines. Having a lot of amphibious assault ships would indicate a navy with a strong offensive doctrine (which the US has), but lately, the Italian, Spanish and British navies have been training to use their small aircraft carriers as assault ships as well, giving them a duel purpose ship, making it hard to decide where the emphasis is on a given day.

In the end, it is a lot of academia, and a lot of numbers, and if you're not into it, it is all very dry. But, if you are willing to shift through it all, and do some basic reading, figures like these can help shed new light on news reports like "china is building a new submarine", or "the United States is decommissioning one of its submarines". Submarines are just one facet of the equation. What you really need to look for is abilities, and what nations are increasing what abilities. With that knowledge, you might catch yourself actually thinking one step ahead of the anchor on the evening news one day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A couple of things.

As much as I would like to sit down and pontificate on a single topic for a while, there have been a few topics eating at me this month. Let me highlight one of them, though I admit this is a revisit of something I spoke about before.

(1) - Pistols and Concealed Carry

The other day, a friend of mine looked at me while we were talking and asked, "When you and [your wife] go out to eat at like a McDonald's or something, you don't take you're gun with you then, right?"

I looked right at him and said "That is exactly when I would take my gun with me, moron!"

I'm sure some of you are cringing at that responce, but there is a very good reason I am revisiting this topic. Something a lot of people don't seem to understand if the "why" in my decision to carry a concealed firearm. I don't put this thing on hoping to use it. And I don't see myself as a potential knight in shining armor in the event of a violent crime. I didn't buy this sidearm so that I could carry concealed. I carry concealed because I happen to have a sidearm for professional reasons. The reason I carry it is because I don't ever want to look in the mirror and have to say to myself "you could have protected that person if you had just remembered to put your gun on that morning."

Does that sound extreme to you? I'm the same way with my Leatherman and my mobile phone. Both are invaluable tools that I try and have on me at all times. More to the point, I do routinely chastise myself when I forget one of them. Given the nature of a firearm, and when it would be used, pulling it for any reason would be a grave circumstance by definition. And like I have said before, when I'm wearing it, I'm looking for ways out of a situation, not how to shoot myself further into it. If it were just me and something happened, trust me, I would probably find cover somewhere and wait for help. But if my wife or son were with me, and cover wasn't readily available, going toe to toe with an attacker might be the only chance I have to protect my family. I already own the gun and the CWL, what's the point in not carrying it?

(2) - The current US budget situation.

Today the Gainesville, Fla., Tea Party released a summary of the national budgetary situation. They have effectively removed the last eight figures from each category, and framed the whole thing as a household budget. As much as I like to think I am a numbers' person, this process helped to clarify for me exactly how ridiculous the situation is.

The information they provided reads like this:

Your annual income is:                       $21,737
Your annual expense is:                     $38,188
Your annual "credit card" use totals:  $16,451
Proposed cuts total:                                $385

You owe your credit card company: $142,000

Alright, first of all, if you want to argue these numbers, go ahead. I'm not even going to try and verify them, the last time I tried to wrap my head around the US budget I would up with a headache and more questions than answers. Seriously, if these are wrong, just post a reply and tell me.

Now, to the meat of the issue. As someone who's had to actually work with a budget that looked something like this, I actually know how bad this is. In my case, I wasn't spending that much, and it was all critical items, like mortgage, bills, gas and so forth. But still, I was racking up more debt than I knew what to do with. I should note that at that point, I was unemployed and we were living off my wife's income. A second job helped, but I'll talk about that in a second.

I'll admit, up until now I was someone arguing for cuts and a balanced budget. After seeing this I have come to two conclusions. First, I was one of those people who didn't have a good instinctual understanding of "millions" verses "Billions" verses "trillions". I understand the numbers, but the proportions are too abstract for me. These numbers up here are more familear, and that means they hit home. Looking at the proportions as listed here, I think it's safe to say I'm much more pessimistic about "balancing the budget"  now than I was a week ago. And this brings us to my second realization:To balance the budget without increasing revenue (upping taxes) would mean cutting better than 40% of all expenditures. That's not trimming a little off the top, thats taking a hatchet to the defence budget, Medicare and Medicade, just to name the top three. I don't think the discretionary spending portion of the national budget has enough money allocated to it to even take a major chunk out of the overage.

So what does all this mean? Let me tell you, it means a bunch, and let me talk about it for a moment. First of all, unless we want to actually take an ax to the the existing budget (which we won't do, in my opinion), a tax increase in inevitable. And to be honest with you, I'm currently not even opposed to an increase after looking at these numbers. However, we need to go about it smartly.

1) ANY increase needs to come with a legal mandate that the budget be balanced from that point on. Otherwise we are just giving messy children more mud to play with and hoping they don't make another mess. The congress will spend whatever they are given without a second thought, and that goes for both sides of the aisle. Money is the currency of power at that level, and any revenue increase would give our elected officials more currency to spread around in order to curry favor with voters. Personally, I think that we could raise every penny of the short funds, and at the end of the day congress would still come up in the red because of "unexpected" needs. Its not that I don't trust our elected officials... no, actually, it is because I don't trust them. I don't trust them at all.

2) As loathed as I am to agree to a tax increase, I will also say that we need to go about it smartly. I'm not going to sit here and try and say who should pay what. But you can bet I'm going to challenge any ideas that come down the pike. When I say challenge, I don't mean shoot them down, but I do want to examine the logic that is out there.

The bottom line for me goes like this; for each tax bracket or demographic, I want to know how much they are supposed to pay, how much they are actually paying, and what their percentage looks like compared to the others. Like I have said before, I don't want to tax the hell out of the rich just because they are rich, but if they are paying 2% of their income in taxes, and I'm paying 15% (just as an example), then we do have something to talk about.

3) One of the reasons that I think the process won't be even remotely this straightforward is the fact that the Tea Party was elected largely on a strong "no more taxes" platform.

4) I also think we need a good, strong look at what our obligations are with each portion of the budget. I don't think there is any single area that should be axed, and in fact hitting any one too hard for cuts could likely cause upheaval domestically. Meicare & Medicade affect two very venerable populations within the US, and the real kicker is that both groups have a healthy voting demographic to go with. Militarily, as much as the a lot of people aren't thrilled with the US presence in Afghanistan and what's left of Iraq, we need to keep in mind that the military is still the primary proactive force in the counter terrorism and national defense effort. Additionally, China had effectively engaged in a race to upgrade their military, as well as a technological race with us in space travel. While I gladly admit that the chance of them militarily threatening the US is remote, even under the most optimistic of circumstances. But, as a superpower we do have obligations to our allies, some of whom are less than a stone's throw from the Chinese border. Any number of political fights today could turn hot in a very short time (Taiwan, South Korea, Iran). With the world currently in hard times across the board, there's no telling what culture will react to what pressure the wrong way. I'm not trying to say that we should spend like we have been, or even like we are, but there are people out there who would gladly knock our armed services back to the 1990s in terms of equipment in order to save money on them, and that is tantamount to using flintlocks in today's military environment.

I guess my point overall is that we need to take a hard look at what our obligations are, and how badly we want to keep them. As much as I hate to say it, even with tax increases, we may well be looking at reductions across the board, and that includes cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and the military.

The foot note to all this is that no mater what, I don't think its possible to balance the budget without pissing off better than 50% of the electorate. So whichever party manages it (if either of them do), can probably look at having every one of their members thumped soundly during the next election cycle. If they cut funds, the recipients will be hacked off, and if they up taxes, a lot of other people will be mad six-ways-till-Sunday.  I might be wrong, but I don't think so.

Okay, moving on yet again.

(3) Social Networking

Let me go ahead and wrap this lengthy tirade up with a bit about social networking. I'm currently on Facebook, but the way things are going that isn't going to last much longer. I was one of the entry-level Google+ users, and I'm here to tell you that from where I'm standing, Facebook looks an awful lot like  its panicking, and rather than swimming, its thrashing around pointlessly, just waiting to drown. I'm sure that's a lot of oversimplification of the facts, but I'm not thrilled with the new look, the new features, or all of the crap that came with.

On the flip side, I'm really getting used to Google+, and enjoying the way they manage their information and offer their services. Perfect? Not by a long shot. But they are light years ahead of Facebook right now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lets get real for a minute.

The other day I was reading about how the Whitehouse (well the BATFE, actually) wanted to require registered gun dealers in the United States to report purchases of "military grade" weapons when sold more than two at a time to a single purchaser. This is supposed to help the government stem the tide of weapons moving south into Mexico. I'm sure most of you who know me know that my first reaction to this would be "get real", and to be hionest, it was. But more to the point, I was really put off by the term "military grade" when talking about weapons. What exactly is a "military" weapon? I know that sounds simple, but really, its not.

This whole issue goes back a lot farther than just this Mexican drug war. "militarized weapons" have been a hot button topic in the United States evern since the 1960s, when firearms technology allowed for a truely radical divergence between classic, civilian firearms and modern military hardware.

First of all, let me get some history out of the way, but I will be quick. Up until the 1930s, the service weapon of an American infantryman was little different from a classic hunting rifle in the United States. The Springfield 1903 rifle, and its predicessor, the Krag-Jørgensen (domestically called the Springfield Model 1892-99) were bolt action, high power rifles little different from commercially available civilian sporting and hunting weapons of the day. Only with the advent of the M1 Garand repeating rile  in the 1930s did the military start to offer modern infantrymen more than a 'hopped-up" hunting rifle. But even still, the eight-round M1 and its sucessor the twenty-round M-14, were semi-automatic weapons firing high-powered .30 caliber bullets, making automatic fire almost impossible because of the potent revoil of the large bullets. It wasn't until the begining of the conflict in Vietnam, and the introduction of the Armalite Rifle model 15 (militarily known as the M-16) that the infantryman was given truly automatic fire. The M-16 used a smaller bullet with much higher velocity, sacrificing range and kenetic energy for rate of fire and a larger magazine (30 rounds). The M-16 has been the staple of US military weapons ever since its full adoption in the late 1960s, and today it and it's various civilian models have been at the center of more than their share of contravercies about firearm's regulations.

I'm sure all of this seems old hat to some of you, but I wanted to at least build a common base before I make my point here.

I would like you to take a look at this gun for a moment.

It is comercially marketed as a "Ruger Ranch rifle", and it fires the .223 caliber rife round. Its too small for any serious hunting, but as 'varment gun" and "plinking rifle" the round is cost effective, accurate and powerful enough to make even a respectable cyote run for its life. Additionally, the hardwood stock and clean lines are popular with a number of outdoorsmen because of its solid build and having enough weight to mostly adsorb what recoil the round offers. It has a removable 5-round magazine, and iron sights that have been demonstrated to be very accurate well past 300 yards. This is available in wall mart for just over $600 the last time I checked.

Now, I want to show you another weapon.

Also produced by Ruger, this is a tactical upgrade of their "Mini-14" rifle, a moderinized version of the previously mentioned M-14 battle rifle, though redesigned for the venerable, but smaller, NATO 5.56mm rifle ammunition, the same rounds used by the military's M-16 and M-4 series of rifles. The bolt-on ramp on the top allowes for various scopes to be attached, while the shorter ramps on the side and bottom allow for attachments such as flashlights, forward grips and lasers. The butt stock uses a teliscoping mechanism that allows the rifle to be shortened or lengthened, both for the shooter's comfort, and for ease of storage as well as use in tight quarters. The mazagine is a 20-round detachable box that can be quickly changed out. This particular model can be fitted with an automatic setting, though for the civilian market it is available in semi-automatic only.

So, do you see it yet?

If not, let me spill the beans, you're looking at the same gun. The NATO 5.56mm rifle round is international name for the .223 caliber we use here in the states. Both of these weapons use the same barrel, firing mechanism, trigger and iron sights, and have the same range and fire power. The "Ranch rifle" is marketed for farmers, so it comes with a 5-sound magazine, but there are plenty off 20, 30 and even 100 round magazines available for it that can be fitting without modifying the weapon at all. On top of all that, the hardware on the second weapon, the mounting ramps, pistol grip and adjustable butt stock are commercially available online, without any regulations or background check needed. In fact, you can walk into any Wal*Mart superstore and purchase a small bi-pod for about $30.

When people use the adage "gun's don't kill people, people do", its not some trite, overused retort. Rather, it is a realistic concept that reminds us that it is people who make weapons dangerous. With semi-automatic weapons, the rate of fire is literally limited to how fast a person can pull the trigger. With only a little practice, controlled semi-automatic weapons can actually be more lethal than full automatic because you are able to more accurately place rounds on target without over-saturating and waisting ammunition. Furthermore, most magazines (European and American) are designed for simplicity of use and ease of function. In short, a shooter familiar with a shooter familiar with his weapon will probably take at little as three seconds to drop an empty magazine and load a new round. My reason for pointing that out is to show you how laughable the "10-round magazine" myth is. Sure, in a pitched gunfight with trained opponents, the time taken to change out a magazine might well be exploited to the shooters demise. However, in a lot of cases, the shooter is simply able to reload and keep going when he is faced with civilian targets.

This is why the two weapons you saw above are equally dangerous. It doesn't matter how much hardware it had clamped onto it, or what size the magazine is, both weapons are equally capable of being formidable killing tools, expectingly when pitted against unarmed or untrained opponents.

So, when someone "up top" says "we are only after military grade weapons", we really need to ask them "how do you define 'military'?", and then ask them "What about all of the other weapons out there?"

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A bit about a plane, and a lot else.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Smithsonian Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air & Space Annex in Northern Virginia. While there I had an interesting conversation with a small group visitors who I ran into near the World War II exhibit. This isn't necessarily a rant, but I did want to point out some facts from the conversation, and editorialize on those facts.

First of all, the group I ran into was composed to five people, two girls in their early twenties, Two men in their thirties, and a man in his mid forties.

1) No one recognized the Enola Gay on sight.

Comment: This isn't as bad as some might make it sound. The plane is huge, and from the single vantage point we were standing, there were no identifying placards around. A one minute walk would have put us at the nose of the plane, and a huge display about it, its crew and its famous mission. However, the B-29 is a very distinctive shape, and the images of the plane dropping the bomb over Hiroshima are very common, so I was a little disappointed as the obliviousness.

2) When pointed out, none of them recognized the name "Enola Gay"

Comment: Sight recognition aside, this plane is one of the most iconic in world history, and one of the most written about in school textbooks. I was bothered, to say the least.

3) When I commented that this was not a replica, or a reproduction, but was in fact the very same plane that single-handedly took the world into the atomic/nuclear age, there was a reverent look of shock from all five people. One of the girls was even heard to say "Oh my God" under her breath.

Comment: This was good, in my opinion. I know too many people who have little to no respect for the surviving artifacts of history. To have the complete, undamaged aircraft on display for the public to see is a milestone for history, posterity and the public good. I was actually touched that these people understood this.

4) There were slack-jawed, heart-stopped-for-a-moment, "I can't believe that", expressions when I commented that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't even in the top ten for destructive bombing raids during world war two.

Comment: This bothered me, but I wasn't really disappointed in any of the five people in question. Politically, socially and militarily, there is little doubt that the missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were amongst the most important in the allied war effort. However, these grand facts have conspired together to overshadow the massive, dedicated military offensives that went into the bombing of other major cities in Japan and Europe. Historians can debate motives and results from now until dooms day, but the fact that none of these five had heard of the fire bombings of Dresden or Tokyo, or their causes, effects or the lessons learned (then and now) truly saddens me.

5) After I explained about several other bombing campaigns, one of the girls looked at me and asked "Why is it that they don't teach us this stuff in school? You would think this would be considered important?"

Comment: This was a major uplifting moment for me because that one girl cut through all the politics of the moment, and of history with a very direct question. And that type of question can, and should lead to other questions, and those can, and should lead to true, useful education. What these people may, or may not have had in terms of historical knowledge, this one girl made up for in insight.
And for the record, my answer was "Frankly, because we don't know to ask when we are kids. Its really up to us to teach ourselves that type of thing these days, but the good thing is that we have the tools to do just that unlike ever before."

And Finally,

6) one of the men cut me off at that point and rather brusquely cut me off. "I appreciate the comments, I really do, but we are on a schedule here."

Comment: I talk to much, but you probably already knew that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Developing thoughts.

This is actually two posts from Google+ that I felt belonged together. Something of a realization on my part, as well as a demonstration of the types of people and policies that exist out there in the world.

Originally posted on July 17th, 2011.

I went to visit a friend last night at their hotel. I got there just at sunset, and had to park a good distance away. The walk to the hotel in question took me through two extremely narrow, isolated alleys. In both of these alleys I was watched by several people from a distance, though no one approached me. I got to the hotel, and low and behold, on the door is a sign that says "no firearms on property".

NOTE: taking a gun into such a place could result in a criminal weapons change. Simply being arrested for such a charge WILL torpedo a person's security certifications and their CWL status in the state of Oklahoma. Peace officers (police, federal agents, sheriffs, ect.) are not bound by such rules.

So, I walk to the front desk (just inside the door), and without saying that I actually have a firearm, I asked if the hotel would honor a Concealed Carry Permit. The manager said that they would not, and that they could prosecute if a guest knowingly walked on property with a gun.

(This is the right of the hotel since the building is private property. Just as any of you may elect to deny me access to your home for the same reason.)

So, I walked back to my vehicle, through the same two alleys, secured my weapon, and then walked back to the hotel, again through the same two alleys, this time watched by even more people. Many of my observers were clearly not part of the local festivities, though I didn't see any overt gang colors. Finally, I made it to the hotel, unbothered.

Once I was back inside, I walked up to the uniformed (unarmed and completely unequipped) security guard and asked him what procedures they had in place if someone were to attack someone else there at the hotel.

"We would just call the police." He said.

I nodded. "Just out of curiosity, what happens if someone were attacked between here and their car?"

"Well then, that's not our problem."

"Okay." I nodded politely. "What happens if someone came in here with a gun and started shooting?"

"That wouldn’t happen, there's a sign up front that says 'no guns'."

I smiled, nodded, and added, "Okay, cool." And then walked off before I actually said what was on my mind.


Now, a few days later, I had a chance to think about it some more, and I decided that I wasn't thinking my situation through to the fullest that time.

Originally posted on July 22nd, 2011.
You know, last week I posted a complaint about having to leave my sidearm in my car due to a hotel policy. Simply put, I was compelled to walk through two narrow alley's, under observation of several suspicious people, without the benefit of my sidearm because the hotel reserved the right to prosecute anyone who knowingly took a firearm onto their property.

Well, I got to thinking about that, and I have decided that I made some major mistakes as well in that process.

First of all, however, let me be clear; I fundamentally disagree with the idea that prohibiting firearms in a location automatically makes it safer. Each case should be considered individually, but the idea that a sign on a door and an unarmed, unequipped private security guard will make your place safer is flawed on several levels.

However, the law that lets me carry a concealed firearm does not trump the right of a private institution or person to control what is allowed on their property. In the end, they are exercising their rights just like I am. To tell them that they are wrong would infringe on the same power I have to control who walks into my home. You see, the proverbial blade cut's both ways. In good conscious I can say that the time to debate this was not, and never will be, after-hours on the front steps of a hotel. On top of that, a lot of hotels have this policy, and I should have considered that before parking my car. At the very least, it should have been a noted possibility.

Also, while firearms are heavily regulated, I own and am trained in the use of expanding batons and a can of OC spray (aka, pepper spray), which are not so heavily regulated. I should have just traded out my 9mm for my 24" expandable baton and/or my OC can. Sure, it's not a firearm, but even a gun doesn't offer you an absolute. More to the point, in my anger over the issue, I failed to improve my situation above being completely unarmed.

You see, these are important points because the same laws that let me carry a gun let others say they don't want them on their property. The truth be told, if I don't learn to respect those laws, and work within them, I'm really not much better off than I was before I had my CWL or even my sidearm. 

In the end, the most dangerous weapon I own isn't strapped to my hip, or trucked away in a pocket, it's between my ears, and as long as I remember that, I'm better off than a lot of people.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

out of nowhere.

I don't even know why I wrote this, but I felt compelled to, so I finally sat down and got it out of my system. I don't even know if there is anything interesting in it for others, but none the less, I don't shrug away from it.


Twenty years ago, I was the victim of a random, stupid act of violence. I was walking the streets of my neighborhood, a wooded, suburban subdevelopment in northern Virginia. It’s a nice place, filled with two-story colonial homes and large families. There were lots of two-car garages, tall trees and big laws. I walked all the time, it was my escape from the rigors of being a twelve year old; a chance to just clear my head and stretch my legs.

Imagine my surprise when out of nowhere, two miles from my home, a silver pickup pulls up next to me while I’m walking. There are four kids in it, all between sixteen and nineteen as best as I could figure. Two were in the cab and two were in the back. The passenger, the one closest to me, asked me the time. Not thinking anything of it, I looked down at my watch, read the time and looked up again. Before I could say anything, one of the kids in the back vaulted over the side, landing right in front of me. I was looking at his collarbone; he was that much taller than me. The kid in the passenger’s seat laughed manically, adding “He called your mom a ho, man. He called your mom a ho!”

I took a half step back, putting my hands up, ready to pivot on my back ankle and bolt the second I had the chance. I was right in front of a house with a steep hill for a front yard, the truck would never be able to follow me through the rain-ditch and up that hill. Even in that split second I remember thinking that even if they could only follow me on foot, I was better off being run down by for people than four people with a pickup truck. All I needed was one more step back and I would be far enough to turn and run.

I never got that second step.

The blow came so fast I never saw it. The kid in front of me lashed out with a closed fist, hitting the left side of my head and snapping my face down towards the ground like a sledgehammer. I saw stars and heard the impact as much as I felt it. It was like having someone box my ears.

I turned where I was, facing the relatively steep grade of grass just a few feet in front of me. I launched myself forward with everything I had. I screamed at the top of my lung for help. It wasn’t a cry, or a shout, it was the embodiment of what I was thinking at that moment; “My God, I’m being attacked and I don’t know what they are going to do to me now.”

I pushed myself as fast as I could up the hill, shrieking for help as loud as my lungs could push the sound. Behind me I could hear more maniacal laughing, all four of them were celebrating my retreat. I was maybe three steps up the hill when I looked back. My eyes caught sight of them just as the one who hit me jumped back into the back. The wheels spun and the truck shot off, all four faces looked at me with humor, joy and celebration in their eyes.

In that second, my mind stopped thinking as a victim, and snapped back to the present, back to who I was, and what I was capable of. I can’t even fully describe the transition, but I know it was faster than a light switch.

I remember thinking “Oh no you don’t!” as I lunged back, clearing the rain ditch in a single flying leap and running out into the middle of the street. The two in the back were still laughing, looking right at me, one of them was flicking me off as the truck slowed just enough to blow through a stop sight and take the right turn out of the subdevelopment. I could see all of it, their faces, their laugher, their joy, their absolute jubilation at having attacked me.

But I didn’t care, I wasn’t looking “at” them.

I was looking at the back end of their truck.

When the truck was gone, I turned once again and charged up the hill, still scared, still shaken, in pain, but now furious. The homeowner, a man I had never met before, came out his front door, worry on his face. “Are you alright?” He asked me. “I heard a scream for help.”

“I need to use your phone!” I said, breathless, shaking, and suddenly tired. “I was just attacked.”

Moments later he handed me a cordless handset. I dialed 911 and waited one ring for the operator to answer. I remember the first words out of my mouth. “Hello, operator, I was just attacked on the street by four guys. ” I must have sounded like I had run a mile; I could hear my own heartbeat, and I was still shaking. But I still remember the look of pleasant surprise on the homeowner’s face when I said the next sentence. “They were in a silver pickup truck, and I have the license plate number for you.”

Not long after that I calmed down enough to remember to call my mother, who promptly dropped everything and drove over. Not a minute after she arrived as Sheriff’s deputy pulled up as well. We all exchanged greetings and then he said something that I never would have expected. He was talking to my mother, but about me, so we were standing together right in front of him.

“Actually, just before I got here,” he explained “I got a call from Aquia Harbor; we think we have them already.” My mother was speechless, and I was pretty stunned too. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear that from an officer twenty minutes after the crime itself. “All I need,” he continued “if for your son to come with me and see if he can identify his attacker.”

My mother gave me a worried look, and asked me if I felt up to it. The worst of my fear was gone by then, and I was ready to go toe to toe with one of those thugs if I had to in order to bring him to justice.

“Just tell me where to go.” I said to the deputy.

“You sure you’re up to it?” He asked.

I nodded. “You’re damned right I’m ready!”

We rode over in his cruiser. On the way he asked me about the attack and I recounted it to him.

“So, you ran back out into the road just to get their license plate number?”

I nodded, still trying to put words to my logic. “It was all I could think to do. I wasn’t going to just let them get away with it.”

The deputy shook his head. “That’s pretty unreal.” He said. “I don’t know too many people who would think to do that after taking a hit to the face like yours.” The bruise on my face was forming up by then. Nothing was broken, thank God, but I was going to have a hell of a shiner in the morning.

“What would you have done?” I asked.

“Personally,” he said with a laugh. “Four-on-one; I’d of shot’em.” He patted his service pistol, “All four of‘em.”

“Okay,” I agreed, laughing as well. “But without the gun, what would you have done? Do you think I should have kept running, or maybe stood and fight?”

The man shook his head. “No, you did exactly what you should have done, you ran for help, and that probably why we aren’t having this talk in the back of an ambulance. I just think It’s damned amazing that you thought to run back out and get their tag number. If you hadn’t done that, well, I’ll be honest with you, there wasn’t much chance of catching them.”

I don’t know exactly why, but that startled me. I hadn’t even really thought about it until then, but I did have the choice to just keep running. And lord knows I had all the reasons in the world to. But I hadn’t kept running, instead, somewhere in my adrenalin flooded mind I made an decision to turn the tables and strike back the best way I knew how. But what really got me was how little thought I had put into the process; I had just decided to turn around and do it, no thought, no pause, just split second action.

We arrived a few minutes later. Aquia Harbor was a 700 home subdevelopment in the north of the county, and part of the dues everyone paid for covered a small team of private security guards who worked the entrances. I found out later that the silver truck had come up to the gate of Aquia Harbor minutes after the dispatcher had broadcast their description and tag number. The moment the guards saw the truck, they pulled the kids out and called the Sheriff’s department. By the time I got there it was sunset, and with the tall trees in that part of the state, most of the light was now from streetlamps. There were three deputies there, above and beyond the two security guards, and all four kids were lined up against a wall with a pair of headlights pointed at them.

I was told I could stay in the car, that I didn’t need to get out. But I did. I opened the door and stepped out so that I could see them all clearly. That was when I saw the guy who hit me, standing there with a cocky grin on his face, not a care in the world. “Second from the left.” I said to the deputy. He waived at his comrades, who walked up to the kid. I found out later that no one had told them why they were pulled aside, evidently they thought it was something to do with a busted tail light on their truck.

When they reached the kid he shrugged away from them. “Leave me alone!” He insisted. “Get your hands off me. I didn’t do anything.”

“That’s the one who hit me!” I shouted it so loud that is surprised even me. Everyone jumped a little, but the kid looked like he was about to have a heart attack. He looked in my direction, and I think he saw me, but I can’t be a hundred percent sure. I was madder than hell just then. I was ready to walk up to him and write “HIM” across his face with a sharpie if I had to. He probably could have pulled a gun at me just then and it wouldn’t have scared me. When I realized he was looking at me I added “That’s right! I’m the one you hit on the street back there, and I think these men want to talk to you about that!”

All four of the kids suddenly looked like someone had walked over their graves. That was when I realized that they actually thought no one was ever going to catch them, that they could get away with crap like that because they had a fast truck, and because they targeted a kid too young to fight back. The final proof was what I heard my stunned attacker saying as they stuffed him into the back of another cruiser.

“Its not possible… its not [explitive] possible…”

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I know it’s been forever since I posted, and that’s largely my own fault, though in my defense, I would like to point out that work has had be jumping through hoops (and then some).

I wanted to take a minute to talk about something a little more down to earth than just politics in general. The other day, I stopped by the local sheriffs’ office and picked up my Oklahoma Concealed Weapons License. Simply put, I am now allowed to carry a pistol on my person, out of sight, and in public. I’ve had more than a few people who don’t seem to understand my motives, and some who seem to actively choose not to understand. Please note, I am not requiring anyone to agree with me. I am accusing some people of refusing to understand my answers when I give them, but that’s another story entirely. I wanted to take a chance to address some comments I’ve gotten over the past year regarding concealed weapon’s carriage.

Invariably, the first question is always “Why do you have a gun?”

Well, the answer there is simple; money. As a private security guard, positions as an armed security officer pay slightly more than positions as an unarmed one. Additionally, having an armed license and a personal firearm makes me more marketable in the security field. That is the reason I purchased the weapon in the first place.

Second up; “Do you really think its necessary to carry a gun?”

There are two ways to answer that.

As a professional security officer, the answer is “You’re damn tootin!” If the client is paying good money to have an armed individual there, he had better get it. If I don’t want to wear my gun, you better believe that my boss will find someone who does.

As a private citizen, off the clock, I hope and pray (hard) every day that I never have to pull my gun. Furthermore, now that I have started wearing my weapon, I find myself more actively thinking of ways to get out of a room or building if all hell were to break loose. (NOTE: I did just say that I was looking for ways OUT of a situation, NOT ways to charge further into one.) The bottom line is that the moment I got my gun, I started looking for ways not to pull it if things went south in a hurry.

So, no, I don’t think there is any current threat that actively justifies a firearm.

However, the law does not require justification. The way the Oklahoma constitution is written, a private citizen with a concealed weapons license may carry a pistol without having to justify himself to anyone. If you don’t like that, change the law, don’t argue with me (good luck with either of those, by the way).

Next: “Aren’t you worried about having a gun in the house with a child around?”

Simply put, No.

When I first got my gun, I inspected it, made sure it was empty, and then put it on my desk and called my 5 year old son into the room. He took one look at it and blurted out, unprompted, “That-is-a-gun-and-I-am-not-supposed-to-touch-it-and-if-I-see-it-I-need-to-tell-you-really-fast!” (and yes, he got a really big hug for that!). So, to start out with, my son has a good understanding of what a grave issue just seeing the weapon is. Additionally, when not on my person, the weapon is locked, and locked up, away from anyone. I also do not use trigger locks, the locking mechanism I have blocks the weapon from being loaded, cocked or fired in any way. In fact, with the lock in place, you can’t even line up the magazine with the magazine well, let alone slide it in. When my weapon isn’t on me, its locked and secured, and I carry the only keys.

I’ve actually had people argue with me, saying “But your son could get your keys and unlock the weapon and load it and accidently kill himself.” At that point I just roll my eyes and tell them to “get real”. Yes, it is a physical possibility, but as a degree holder in safety, and a father who loves his son, I can say that the barriers between reality and that actually happening are more than enough to let me sleep at night.

As a side note, I wanted to address another topic I get hit with. A number of people have said to me “did you know that 9 kids a day are shot to death in the United States?” To be fair, that number varies a little, but I am trying to give a best faith average of all the encounters.

Well, the statistic is technically correct, but there are some underlying facts, depending on where you get your information from. First of all, a lot of statistics are collected from criminal investigations, and medical records. These are excellent sources to be sure, but it should be pointed out that both the justice system and the medical community group “kids” as anyone under 18 years of age. Furthermore, some studies reach as high as 19 when they try and quantify gun violence against children. An accidental death of a 4 year old with a handgun is almost certainly the fault of the supervising adult and the gun owner (who may well be the same person). However, the accidental death of a fifteen-year -old with a handgun can be an entirely different situation.

I have personally read material that says (for example) “over thirty three hundred children a year are killed by firearms.” Well, read a little deeper and you find out that maybe “children” wasn’t the best word to use there, because that particular study ran from 0-19 years of age (18 being a legal adult in this country).

When I read a little deeper into the study in question, I found the real number that I was looking for, but it was buried several pages in. According to the study, 214 “children” were killed by guns “unintentionally”. However, that number had no age breakdown that I could find (It may have been in there, but I know I didn’t see it). So, of that “9 children a day” figure, less than one of them was accidental, meaning that the rest had little to do with unsafe gun practices and probably had a lot to do with criminal activity.

My point here is not to throw out all gun violence statistic, far from it as a matter of fact. Rather, I would like people to look at the numbers objectively, and see both what they are really saying, and who is saying them. Unfortunately for us, groups like the NRA have a vested political interest in minimizing or ignoring these types of figures, while activist like Rossie O’Donnell can he heard saying lines like “9 children a day are killed by guns” all the time. In reality, both sides are correct, and both sides are being dishonest at the same time.

In the end, however, statics mean little to me. I intend to practice safe, responsible gun ownership at all times. As my son grows, he will have increased exposure to my weapons, if for no other reason than safety and education. If I were to ever decide that he, or anyone else, might actively try and take my firearm, I would react accordingly, including sleeping with the keys around my neck if necessary.

and as a footnote, I wanted to incloude the best summary of the second ammendment I currently know of.
(Sorry for the profanity, but as these two go, it was mild).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Social Network

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch The Social Network the other day, after having been unable to catch it in the theater. As a theatrical experience, I must say that it was most entertaining, though as an amateur historian I was compelled to do some further reading on the subject of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg when the film was complete.

The Movie:
Make no mistake about it, The Social Network is a smartly constructed, slick and well filmed story about three characters as totally different as they are fascinating. It would be wrong to simply say that this film is about the creation of the Facebook website and company. In fact, that summary totally undercuts one of its greatest strengths; the art of the character study. In  fact, I would even go so far as to characterize this film not as a coherent story, but a string of tightly connected vignettes, each one offering amazing insight into the dynamic between the film's three principle characters.
Mark Zuckerberg is drawn as a brilliant computer programmer, but his brilliance creates a drive that borders on obsession as he constantly works to perfect the idea that becomes Facebook, a goal that is all but unreachable. Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder, is shown as a friend and compatriot to Zuckerberg, but their friendship is strained as Saverin's business sense clashes with Zuckerberg's intellectual motivations. And lastly, Sean Parker, already famous (or infamous) for the creation of Napster, joins the scene relatively late into the story, but enters with more than enough dramatic flair to make up for the late start. Larger than life, and radiating blinding levels of social ambition, Parker's epic personality puts an ever growing wedge between Zuckerberge and Saverin as he infuses the fledgling Facebook company with a shot in the arm of his own untamable (and unstable) personality.

Where other writers might use courtroom antics, or dramatic monologues to tell this personality driven story, Aaron Sorkin frames the story with moments from the depositions of two simultaneousness lawsuits, leaving the balance of the story to be told in flashback. The mundane is painted as the extraordinary we see the characters work through the process that ultimately created the interface that is the modern facebook. A random comment in a school computer lab, a smoke break outside a dance, a downhill relationship conversation (read: Breakup) inside a pub; the laboratory for innovation is oftentimes life itself, and this film embraces that fact with open arms.

Cinemagraphically, the story is told with traditional acting, and simple, but effective settings and backdrops. Despite a story that revolves around a web page, there are surprisingly few shots of computer screens, and almost no noticeable CGI work. This is a character story, and the director is smart enough to let the character's tell it in their own ways.

The Reality:
Before watching the film, I had relatively little knowledge of Facebook's background, or of the people who created it. Even after watching The Social Network, it turns out that I still know relatively little on the subject. As it happens, to say that the writer took "artistic license" with history seems to be a titanic understatement. All three of the real life principles depicted in the film have commented on how inaccurate the story is to the lives they lived at the time. Because of how unflattering the film is to all three of the principles, it might be easy to accuse them of shrugging away from an honest appraisal, but when questioned on the subject, director David Fincher responded with;

"I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?" 

In the end, The social network is a thoroughly enjoyable, tightly written drama about a trio of modern giants who unapologetically set their own paths through life, each one driven by objectives and motives as unique as themselves.

However, I felt that it fell well short of its full potential when its creators placed more faith in their own ability to craft a believable fiction, rather than put the extra effort into finding and preserving a compelling story from the pages of actual history.

Still, its well worth seeing.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


No, you're not reading it wrong, and I didn't mistype.

I'm not normally one to try gimmicks, but this time I felt it was worth the effort to try something new.
While I am a political conservative more often than not, both my wife and I are registered as independents because we don't want anything to do with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Unfortunately, claiming myself as an independent lately has lead to its own share of misunderstandings, with several people believing that I am formally affiliated with either the Independent party, or just a supporter of this or that third-party candidate. Now, there has been no real harm done with the misunderstandings, but I'm no more eager to be called a (big "I")  Independent, than I am a Democrat. And to be fare, I am sure there are a number of more liberally minded independents out there who are just as annoyed with this type of misunderstanding.

Traditionally, the distinction was made with the aforementioned "big I" distinction. Jessi Ventura was an Independent Politician, while I am an independent voter. The problem is that with the rise of e-mail, blogging and instant messaging, details like weather or not the "I" is capitalized are frankly lost on a culture that has learned to read whole paragraphs that completely lack punctuation.

So, here is what I propose, capitalize the other end of the word. Write it "independenT" and make people blink and ask what you mean. It will either catch on and eventually fade into the background like the "big I"/"little i" system, or it will die here in this post. But the point here is't to come up with some new gimmick, its to come up with a way for us to remind people that we have our own opinions, and we are not so easily boxed into one political philosophy or another.

Political individuality isn't a gimmick, its a cause, and its one worth investing a little effort into, if you ask me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Odyssey Dawn" over "El Derado Canyon"

With the current military action in Libya, the news is abuzz with all of the usual chatter from the talking heads. Subtopics range from Colonel Gaddafi, to terrorism, to the budget to President Obama and so on. One of the things that has been mentioned a lot lately, (or perhaps I am just hearing a lot of it) are references to the 1986 bombing of Libya. Sadly, a lot of people I have spoke with or overhead, do not seem to understand the differences between the current US military action in Libya, and the military action in 1986. A handful are so ignorant of the facts that they have said to my face "Isn't this exactly what Regan did back in the eighties?"

Well, as military history is a hobby of mine, I figured I might add to the current noise level, and maybe educate some people as to what did, and didn't happen back in 1986.

Without going back too far, the origin's of the 1986 bombing are immediately attributed to several events, starting with the terrorist attacks in Rome, and Vienna, on December 27th, 1985. Following this, Colonel Gaddafi extended Libya's jurisdiction into the Gulf of Sidra, well into what were otherwise recognized as international waters. The United States Navy, in accordance with US policy of the day, aggressively challenged this claim, moving combat ships into the disputed waters, effectively daring Libya to militarily contest the region, as well as helping to protect civilian merchant vessels legally navigating outside Libyan jurisdiction. By the end of March, the US 6th fleet and sent an impressive battle group to the region, centered on three Aircraft carriers; the USS America, The USS Saratoga, and the USS Coral Sea. Supporting ships included five guided missile cruisers, twelve destroyers and six frigates. It should be noted that the combined air power of this battle group was over 200 aircraft, and had a major military engagement taken place, modern historians are confident that the carrier battle group could have devastated any offense air mission sent by Libya against themselves, or civilian ships in the vicinity.

Throughout February and March of 1986, elements of the battle group continuously challenged Libya's claims by crossing their declared "line of death" (32 degrees, 30 minutes North), effectively daring Libya to respond. by the end of March, the Libyan military decided to respond, and begin countering US maneuvers with actions of their own. This culminated in a limited engagement starting at 7:02am on March 23rd, where a Libyan surface to air missile site near the coast fired on US aircraft flying in international water. The action ended at just before 1:00 the next morning with a US retaliatory strike on on Libyan military ships and selected SAM sites on the coast. The Navy ceased offensive action at that point, with a net result on no American causalities, and and 4 Libyan light combat ships destroyed or heavily damaged, as well as several SAM sites out of action.

In early April, the La Belle night club in West Berlin was bombed, an action later attributed to agents from the Libyan Government, working under orders from Colonel Gaddafi. Following this development, President Ronald Regan ordered a military strike on selected Libyan military assets, and training centers documented to be used for training terrorists. The Specific Targets were Military barracks in Bab al-Azizia and Jamahiriyah, an encampment at Murat Sidi Bilal, Tripoli Airfield and two major air-defense emplacements near Tripoli and Benghazi. The mission would launch on the 14th of April, and the overall mission was officially codenamed "El Dorado Canyon".

The chosen strike aircraft would be the Air Force's F-111F "Aardvark", and the Navy's A-6 "Intruder", both direct descendants of aircraft used in the Vietnam war. Both of these aircraft were designed specifically to penetrate hostile air space at low attitude, engage a target as accurately as possible, and then to retreat at low altitude towards safety. This type of mission, genarically refered to has precision strike, was one that US Navy and Air Force flight crews had trained for extensively throughout most of their careers.
An original plan called for the use F-117s of the 4450th Tactical Group,
and these aircraft were, in fact, within hours of launch from their
classified airfield in Nevada when the mission was canceled out of
concerns for the F-117's continued secrecy.

During the operation, a single F-111f, crewed by Captain Fernando L Ribas, and Captain Paul F. Lorence was shot down (presumably by a Russian-made S-200 Angara surface to air missile) over the Gulf of Sidra during their return from a successful bombing raid. Neither man is believed to have survived the resulting crash, and both are now confirmed to be deceased.

Then and now:
With respect to the current military situation, Operation El Dorado Canyon was extremely limited, focused, and short. Where the original mission was meant to affect Libyan foreign policy through force and threat of force, the current mission is clearly meant to affect domestic policy through force, threat of force, and destruction or neutralization of military hardware.

Also, Pan-Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb planted by two Libyan intelligence agents less than two years later, demonstrating that the effects of the attack were not exceptionally long lasting.

A few things worth noting about the mission:
  • The strike had an extremely limited objective: to visibly inflict damage on the specified targets in order to send a clear message to Gaddafi that none of his military, or para-military (terrorist training) resources were outside US reach.
  • No attempt was made to establish air superiority over Libya, and no Libyan fighters were engaged in the air.
  • The Air Force strike elements had no fighter escort when they hit their targets, the pilots were completely dependent on surprise and skill to defend themselves if Libya managed to get fighter aircraft aloft. (the F-111 does have a rudimentary air-to-air capability, but it is specifically not a fighter aircraft, despite it's "F" designation.
  • The total strike force was composed of 45 aircraft.
  • The time that US combat aircraft were over Libyan airspace was less than 1 hour.
  • The majority of the ordinance used was unguided, impact detonated, free fall munitions.
  • 48 GBU-10 Paveway II laser guided bombs were deployed aboard the F-111Fs, 28 weapons made it to their release points (4 aircraft had to turn back early due to mechanical problems), 3 missed their targets. 
  • While the F-111f was designed for, and its crews extensively trained in the use of guided weapons, the strike on Tripoli airfield was carried out with 60 unguided MK-82 500lb bombs (with devastating results).
  • Most of the of the aircraft that took part in, or supported the raid are no longer in US service. The F-14, the A-6, A-7, EA-6BProwler (in process of being replaced by the EA-18F Growler), KA-6D, and the F-111f have all be retired from service, their respective roles replaced by better aircraft, or superseded by advancements in cruise missile technology, stealth research and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Operation EL DORADO CANYON 1986 Libya

Ronald Reagan Airstrike Libya

Around the world, and then some.

Well, I was looking at my blog's statistics today, and noticed something interesting. Take a look at the counties where people have looked at my pages, specifically, second  from the bottom. Seriously guys, if you're looking at my stuff from abroad, leave and note, say hi, tell me what you think.

United States
United Kingdom