Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Really leaving B&N now

In a way, I'm sorry to contribute to the slow decline of the brick-and-morter book store, but mainly I'm furious at Barnes & Noble, and I'm going to stop patronizing them.  The entire reason is DRM.

When B&N first started putting DRM into books, it was tedious but easy to circumvent.  Because, as we all know, DRM is fundamentally flawed, stupid, and poorly implemented by idiots who should be embarrassed to call themselves programmers.  So I limped along because I like the Nook hardware and the integration with the book store.  Recently, though, I had an experience with some books that made using the books more painful, and it became more frustrating and less of a convenience.

Here's a chat transcript with the B&N rep:

You are now connected with Janus from
Janus: [20:01:48 EST] Thank you for contacting Barnes & Noble Digital Chat. My name is Janus.
Janus: [20:01:51 EST] Hi, Sean! 
Janus: [20:01:58 EST] How can I help you this evening? 
Sean: I'm having trouble with three ebooks I bought recently.
Sean: Basically, I can't get past the DRM.
Janus: [20:04:51 EST] Are you unable to download the eBooks onto your NOOK?
Sean: Nope
Sean: That worked flawlessly.
Sean: Didn't have to do anything. They just showed up.
Janus: [20:05:54 EST] As I understand your concern, the eBook is not showing up in the library of your NOOK. Is that correct?
Sean: That is not correct. The book is showing up in the nook.
Sean: I can't open it. It asks me for the name and credit card information before it'll open the book though, and it is refusing to accept the credit card information with which I bought the book.
Janus: [20:07:36 EST] I see. I understand your concern. I apologize for the inconvenience. Let me help you with that.
Janus: [20:07:43 EST] What kind of NOOK device are you using and is it connected to Wi-Fi? 
Sean: Yes, it is connected to wifi, and it is a nook glow ... I just bought the damned thing a couple of months ago.
Sean: was looking for a version number, and it just locked up on me
Sean: BNRV500, v1.3.1
Janus: [20:10:43 EST] Your NOOK is a NOOK GlowLight. 
Janus: [20:10:56 EST] We are going to sync your NOOK to your Bn account. 
Sean: Yes
Janus: [20:11:01 EST] Please go to the library of your NOOK, and then tap the icon that looks like two arrows forming a circle, that is the sync button.
Sean: ok, I pressed it a couple of times.
Janus: [20:12:28 EST] Okay. Please try to open the eBook again. 
Sean: They're working now.
Sean: Do they only work when wifi is on?
Janus: [20:13:52 EST] Marvelous! 
Janus: [20:14:26 EST] Yes, Sean. They should also work evern if the Wi-Fi is off, as long as the eBook is already download onto your NOOK. .
Sean: Ok, so what did I do wrong the first time?
Sean: Why were they locked?
Janus: [20:15:51 EST] All eBooks are DRM protected, the eBooks asked for your credit card for verification only. 
Janus: [20:16:12 EST] There's nothing to worry about, Sean. 
Janus: [20:16:15 EST] Is there anything else I can help you with?
Sean: "All B&N ebooks are DRM protected." Not all ebooks are DRM protected.
Sean: Yes, you can pass this bit of information up to your superiors: the B&N DRM has become more pain than it is worth, and I resent the entire concept. I won't be buying from B&N any more -- these are the last books I'll purchase from B&N until they remove DRM.
Sean: I'll either buy from companies that don't have DRM, or I'll go back to buying paperbacks that I can share and give away.
Janus: [20:18:20 EST] I will take not of that, Sean. We appreciate your feedback. 
Sean: Thanks.
The chat session has timed out and is now closed.
Here's where I'm at: I fundamentally disagree with DRM.  I bought the book, and it's mine.  DRM restricts what I can do with my property; it is morally wrong, and I believe it is legally wrong, and I hereby claim that I will contribute substantial sums of money to any class-action lawsuit that takes down and, preferably punishes financially, organizations that are forcing DRM in their products today.
But here's what you're losing today, B&N: a long standing, repeat, customer who until recently was an advocate for your company.  I've owned three nooks, choosing them over Kindles and other offerings, and I've bought not a small number of books from you.  All this goes away today.  I will give you not one cent more, and I will take every opportunity to tell my story and warn potential customers away from you.
If you track NPS, your DRM policy just caused a negative impact.  You've made an enemy, and I now hope you go out of business.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shooting the 686+ and XR9-L

I went shooting yesterday, and had a good couple of hours with the handguns.  I learned a couple of things, some of which I don't yet understand:
  1. Ammo does make a difference in accuracy, and it can be significant. 115 grain FMJ steel case by WPA is less accurate than 115 grain FMJ brass case by Winchester.  Dunno if it was the casing, or what, but I put 50 rounds of the WPA and around 50 rounds of the Winchester downrange (alternating), and I was consistently more accurate with the Winchester.
  2. 38 Special 130 grain FMJ Ammo by Aguila does not fire about 75% of the time in the S&W 686+ when fired double-action, but fire 100% of the time single-action.  Of the three brands of ammunition I've shot in the 686, this is the only brand with which I've had this problem.
  3. .357 kicks hella more than 38 special.  No surprise there, but I found loading 3x 38spl and 3x .357 really interesting for the comparison.
  4. My hand actually starts to hurt after a couple of clips of +P 9mm in the Boberg XR9-L.  I don't have this problem with non-+P 9mm.  So, yeah, for self-defense the +P may be great stuff, but it's no fun for target practice (for me, at least).
  5. Despite the Boberg XR9-L having a barrel actually 0.2" longer than my 686+ (4.2" vs 4"), I am far more accurate with 38spl ammo in the 686, fired single action.  Again, I don't know why, but my money is on the trigger pull.  I'll need to try the 686 in double action for comparison, but all I had was that Aguila ammo.
My biggest take-away was that I enjoy shooting the 686 more than the Boberg.  Don't get me wrong; the XR9 is fun, accurate, reliable, and it's far easier to clean, load, etc... but for target practice, the 686 is simply a joy to shoot. Plus, policing the brass is vastly easier.

This is the Aguila 38spl ammo thrown from the 686+ at 13 yards, standing unsupported.  Group 1 is about 1.5", or about 5.37 MOA (I think).  I'm still a novice with handguns, but I'm pleased with that grouping.  Each of these groups is 7 shots, so there are a couple double-holes in there (although Group 2 is suspicious; I don't think any of those are double-holes).  This is the only target I kept, and was the last one I shot, because I was hanging them on top of one another.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Escaping Google -- The Rationalle

For the past 16 years, I've been running my own server.  It started with a machine running Redhat sitting in a guy's garage (this particular guy had a T1 to his house) in Bend.  When DSL came along, the computer moved to to my house and I installed Gentoo on it, which lasted for several years; eventually I put Ubuntu on it and that's what it's been running for the past two or three years.  It's come with me across the country and through four relocations, and has had enough upgrades that the only thing about the machine that is original is the case that it is in.  As of this writing, it's got 4TB of RAID-0 SATA disk, a quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM, two 2TB external drives connected via USB-3 for rotating daily back-ups... and it's off now.

Running my own server was not without challenges. Administrating Redhat was so horrible I would have defected from Linux entirely, except at the time there were no decent alternatives. Upgrading Gentoo was horrendously finicky, and every upgrade session was an odessey of terror. Power outages, not infrequent in Pennsylvania (which has some of the worst infrastructure of any state in which I've lived), meant the server was down several times a year. And don't get me started on Comcast. I will only ever be a Comcast customer again if there is no other option.

Over time, I've slowly migrated to Google. Email was the first, mainly because of the outstanding spam filtering, but also because of reliability and eventually because Comcast blocks port 25 (the port over which email is transfered between servers). For the past 18 months, I haven't been able to run my own email server. Blogging went to (also a Google property), but that's mainly because of bad experiences with OpenSource blogging engines. I've lost much blogged content because of DB issues.  Photos went to Picasa largely because the Picasa native client made image management so much easier.  I jumped to Maps as soon as it came out; it was no contest with Mapquest.  Google Talk was an obvious step since it brought chat to people who didn't know what XMPP was. I recently noticed that I'd increasingly been using Google Drive for documents and sharing -- again, the native sync client makes all the difference.  I hang out in Google Groups a lot, used Google Feeds, and while I'm not a big social media user, I used Google+ when I needed to scratch that itch.

So, yeah, Google's got a lot of data on me.

Some of the reason why I landed on Google so heavily has to do with convenience, some with the good design and user interfaces, and a lot on the fact that it's essentially single-sign on.  One account for everything takes a tiny bit of irritation out of 100% of the interactions -- it doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. In the last year, three things have begun to increasingly bother me, and in the past few months I've been seeking a way to escape from Google.

First, there's the fact that Google keeps deprecating services I like and use.  Well, it's that, plus the strong-arm tactics of driving everything to Google+.  I don't mind Google+, but I don't particularly like it, and I don't *want* to have it as my single interface.  I don't believe in one-tool-to-rule-them-all; I don't think a single UI can necessarily be the best interface for all possible use cases, and I firmly believe that, for a company full of such brilliant people, they're being unbelievably stupid about this.  Google Feeds is gone, Picasa will probably go away (they've made it a right PITA to use the old interface, which I prefer), and the deck is stacked against, since it most directly overlaps with Google+.  I half expect, the original search engine, to be sucked into the Google+ interface, which is a shame, because to this day it's the most useful, light weight interface for searching.

Which brings me to point two: Google's UIs are getting worse.  They're getting heavier, slower, more awkward, and just more frustrating to use.  Again, it's almost as if Google has forgotten *why* it beat Yahoo: not becaues the search results were so much better, or not alone; but because the interface was clean, effecient, and uncluttered.  Look at the new maps interface.  It is *horrible*.  It's sluggish, it interferes with (UI) navigation through over-use of hover-over, it obscures the information I want to see with information I don't; it's just a really crappy UI design.  And no matter how many times I tell Maps that I want to use the old interface, and yes, to remember my preferences for next time, after a couple of days it always forces me back to the new interface and I have to go through the whole take-me-back dance.  It is highly annoying.  Google+ started out bad; again, there's just too much Javascript. They've forgotten where they came from, what they were good at, and what made people like them.  Now they're becoming another Yahoo of UI design.

Finally, there's the the issue of control.  It's more than just privacy; that aspect is certainly important, but I really hate the fact that Google keeps forcing me to change my behavior.  This isn't an offer; it's not a "hey, we think we improved this -- please try it, and use it if you like it!"  It's not a Darwinian evolution of product, where the best product wins.  It's a decision by fiat on the part of Google that you'll use this new service, by damned, whether you like it or not.  Now, we can only complain about that so much; the services don't cost money -- although we must always keep in mind that if we aren't the buyer, we're the product.  But I don't have to like it.

As the saying goes, it's a free country: if you don't like it, leave. I don't have to be Google's product; I don't have to give them information about me that they can resell; I don't have to use their crappy new interfaces; I don't have to spend man-weeks uploading and inputting data only to have services turned off; I don't have to be forced down the path of Google+.  So I'm migrating away.  I don't know how much I'll be able to entirely detach myself from Google, but I'm trying.

This is the story of my journey.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Ammunition is something that fascinates me.  Growing up on American films, you see a lot of different types of guns.  Role playing games are full of books of guns, each with their own characteristics and attributes.  Authors often mention the kind of gun a character is carrying or using.  In the Army, I had to memorize various attributes and characteristics of the M15A1.  The focus is always on the weapon, and never on the ammunition, except to discuss whether there is enough.
The reality is that ammunition is a whole field of study.  Hand loaders will readily tell you that there are entire encyclopedias about ammunition, with reams of paper filled with tables about tolerances and specifications.  It's a science, and since it's a science dealing with explosives, there's a degree of accuracy required that is intimidating.  From the case tolerances, to the projectile attributes, to the powder characteristics, to the primer -- all of these can be tweaked within certain specifications to produce bullets with an enormous variety of performance characteristics and ballistic behavior.

To give you an idea of the amount of variety, check this partial list of options:
  • The bullet weight, measured in grains; there are usually around 4 standard weights for any given caliber of bullet, but there are often a dozen available.  E.g., 100, 115, 130, 150 grain.
  • The bullet construction.  E.g., hollow point, full metal jacket, soft point, round nose, semi-jacketed, frangible, armor piercing, tracer, incendiary, synthetic jacketed, lead, wadcutter.  There are, I kid you not, 70 or 80 different variations here alone.
  • The propellant (gunpowder). Again, there's a lot of variation here in how fast it burns, how much you use, how dirty it is (how much carbon it leaves on your gun).  I don't know how many different formulations there are, but there are a bunch of them, and they can have widely different performance characteristics.
  • The casing.  This is, possibly, the least variable component, since the tolerances are fairly strictly defined.  Dimensions, thickness of walls, etc. are all specified in the SAAMI specifications.
  • Primers.  I don't know anything about primers; I'm guessing the only variability here is price and reliability.
Given the number of variables and the choice in each variable, the number of permutations is enormous.  The practical (measurable) performance differences are probably much smaller, but even so, choosing ammo is a chore.  Mostly, for me, it used to boil down to buying the cheapest ammo for plinking, and then I have a box of higher quality ammo for... whatever.

I currently have a selection of ammunition that I'm playing with.  Mostly, I shoot PMC.  I just like it; it's cheap, clean, and reliable. It isn't, however, always available, so I have a motley assortment of brands at the moment.

From left to right:
  • PMC .308 Win, which I shoot out of my RFB. Muzzle velocity 2780 ft/s, muzzle energy 2522 ft*lb.
  • Remington HTP .357 Magnum 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow point, for the 686+, 1450 ft/s, 583 ft*lb
  • Federal 38 special 130 grain FMJ, for the 686+, 810 ft/s, 189 ft*lb
  • Hornady Critical Duty 9mm P+ 135 grain hollow point FTX, 1110 ft/s, 389 ft*lb
  • Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115 grain hollow point Flexlock, 1115 ft/s, 341 ft*lb
  • Winchester 9mm Luger FMJ 115 grain FMJ, 1190 ft/s, 362 ft*lb
  There's a lot going on there.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hogue Grips

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was replacing the wood grips on my new S & W 686-5+.  It arrived Tuesday, and I installed it (them?) Wednesday night.

They're super easy to install.  There was a single screw holding the wood grips on, so that was easy to take off.  Installing the Hogues is a matter of snapping a guide onto the grip frame and using that to slot the one-piece grips onto the frame.  In my case, it was a smooth operation; I didn't have to wiggle or fudge the grips. I'm impressed at how snug the fit is.  Once that was done, it was a simple matter of using the supplied screw to lock the grips to the guide -- again, there was no hunting or fishing.  It all just went together.

Monika likes the feel of the grips.  I don't think they look as nice as the wood grips, but the rubber is much more comfortable and fits my hand better, and the proportions of the revolver are better now  -- the handle length and barrel length are closer, which is an aesthetic many people prefer.  It's why I got an XR9-L instead of an XR9-S.  Well, I never said I was in this game for any practical purpose.  It's all about aesthetics.

I haven't shot with the new grips yet, but I can't imagine that they'll be anything but more comfortable than the wood grips, and the 686 was already darned comfortable to shoot even with those.

Happy happy, joy joy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Smith & Wesson 686+

As I said a few posts back, when I started this handgun journey, there were a couple that I really wanted to own.  Tied for first were the XR9 and the S&W 686+.  For whatever reason, I bought the XR9 first, and last week, I picked up a 4" 686+.

I find this gun to be indescribably aesthetically pleasing.  The 4" 686 is, perhaps, the most beautiful gun ever made. It's iconic, classic, proportional, and clean. The weight and balance is solid and comforting, and seven rounds of .357 magnum is nothing to sneeze at.  Best of all, the action is widely accepted to be among if not the best among revolvers.

I bought a 686-5, which is a 7-round, pre-lock version with some MIM parts.  I don't know enough about forging to have an opinion about the MIM parts. Some people don't like them, but most of what I've read appears to be unsubstantiated opinion.  The lock, on the other hand, is definitely a bad thing.  There are examples of 686 lock failures caught on video, and that's simply something to be avoided at all cost.  The -5 is the last version they made without a lock.  -4 is the last version without MIM parts, which would have been preferable (even without solid evidence of MIM inferiority), but the -4's are rarer than hen's teeth.

The gun is gorgeous, and while the grips are pretty, they are downright uncomfortable for my hands.  My hands aren't particularly huge; I wear size large gloves, but can fit into mediums in an uncomfortable pinch. However, my middle knuckle is bruising against the trigger guard -- and I haven't even shot the gun yet.  I'm not going to fire it before replacing those grips lest I break a knuckle.  I'm going with rubber Hogue grips, which I've held and appreciated, and which look like this:

Notice that the middle finger is placed well below the guard.  Maybe my wood grips would be fine for a person with small hands.  Such a shame, because they're pretty grips.  I'm choosing rubber because .357 has plenty of kick, and I'm willing to sacrifice a smidgen of style for significantly increased comfort. I like the look of the Hogues just fine, anyway.

The gun was filthy when it came to me.  I've hit it with gun scrubber, Break-Free CLP, and a bronze brush, and it still has carbon on it.  The person who owned it before me was a pig.  I suspect there's rust up under the trigger plate, or something. I'll take the grips off this weekend and give it a proper soaking.  I'm inclined to forgive the shop that sold it to me; they were prompt with shipping, and the gun came with a lovely, if older and a bit worn, leather Bianchi case.  This case is apparently no longer sold, and I plan to take it to my shoe shop and see what they can do to restore the leather.

Regardless of the maintenance the revolver needs, the trigger is a joy, and my FFL is certain that it has after-market springs that make it even smoother than the legendarily smooth 686 trigger pull.  I can't wait to take it to the range.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cleaning firearms

Back in the Army we had what I recall as being supremely annoying cleaning kits.  They looked like this:
To use it, you had to screw several metal tubes together and then, by attaching one of several tips, proceed with a bore cleaning ritual alternately scrubbing and swabbing with what I now assume was some form of CLP.  The annoying part of this was having to alternate between heads; it never occurred to me to steal a second kit and scavenge the rod from that kit, but it would have helped.  The tooth brush was the best part of the kit, although the cleaning were also valuable. We often needed to clean oily sand out of crevices in the weapon, and this took the majority of the time.  The M16A1 is a veritable labyrinth of nooks and crannies for dirt to get stuck in.

Needless to say, I did not enjoy using that cleaning kit, and I did not enjoy cleaning the M16.

When I bought my Kel-Tec RFB, on a whim I also purchased an appropriate Otis system cleaning kit.  Out of the box, it's a nicer system.  For one, the rods aren't rods; they're flexible cables that don't need to be assembled, so the package is consequently smaller. Two cables are included, one for the longer barrels of rifles, and one for short barrels of handguns.  My kit contained a brush for 9mm, and one for .308. Not shown below is that the center piece flips over, and behind is a tube of Otis CLP and a pouch with some swabs, and a bore reflector.  All in a quite compact package.  It has done a bang-up job. 

The kit is simple to use and isn't much different from what I was used to.  You run the appropriate length cable through the barrel from breach to muzzle with alternate attachments until the barrel is clean. The patches are different and don't just fold through the slotted head. Each patch has several slots in it through which you feed the head. You then pinch the patch and pass the pinched part through the slot on the head. There's no way you can lose a patch in the barrel with this, and it allows for using the same size patch with different calibers by varying where the patch is pinched, which alters how think the resulting wadding is.  The kit also comes with T-heads for the other end.  The T is formed by sliding a small rod through the attachment with a hole in it; it provides a nice grip.

I'd like to buy a second set of cables to prevent the necessity of repeatedly swapping out the brunch and patch heads.  I've found it a bit difficult to locate just the cables.

All in all, I'm very satisfied with the kit. It does lack a couple of necessary components.

The most important addition to the base cleaning kit are brushes.  These haven't changed or improved since I was in the military, and they're still an important component.  I bought a variety pack by Otis, which contained three each of nylon, brass, and steel brushes.  I only use the nylon ones.  Store bought tooth brushes work just fine, although they need to be "firm," and it's hard to find them with the mini-brush on the other end, so I just get ones made specially for gun cleaning. They tend to be more robust, as well.
I also got a cleaning mat (again, from Otis). I really like this item, more than I thought. I wish we'd had access to these in the Army. This is a neoprene mat that absorbs oils, prevents fouling your floor, and gives you a debris-free area to work on.  I highly recommend getting one.
By now, you might think this is a long advertisement for Otis products. It is not. I picked the Otis cleaning kit first, on a whim; it turns out that a version of this kit is a government issue item.  The other items are Otis because I liked the kit and was happy with the quality.

In addition to the above items, which I bought mainly for cleaning the RFB, I have added a couple of items.

The first is Break Free CLP.  I bought this because it was highly recommended by Arne Boberg, and I have to say that so far I'm liking it more than the Otis CLP.  I don't have any empirical evidence that it's better, but my XR9-L seems to like it.

I also found another Otis product called the RipCord, which is billed as an all-in-one cleaning system.  I thought I could use it as a second cable for the brush; I haven't given it a thorough test, but it seems to work pretty well on its own. I'm a bit baffled as to how one should clean it -- theoretically, eventually it'll get saturated with carbon and gunk and need cleaning.  Maybe just hose it down with gun scrubber?  I don't know.

I don't yet know if I'd trust this as my only cleaning tool, but I'll be giving it a good run to see.  It's certainly more convenient than the brush/patch combo, and uses fewer resources.  You'd still need CLP and a toothbrush.


Honestly, you can get by with just the base cleaning kit and a shore-bought toothbrush; if you buy anything, it should be more CLP and more patches, because the amount included in the little Otis carry kit will only last a few cleanings. After that, I'd spend money on the cleaning mat, but a towel will work as a make shift if you wash it every time (the oils will saturate it and get on whatever is underneath, which can be undesirable).

Update Oct 25, 2014

Observations after many more cleanings:
  • The snake is adequate.  Great for a field kit.  Cleaning a barrel with this and then with a normal kit, though, shows how much this leaves behind.  However, what I have taken to doing is attaching a scrubber to the end and using it as a second cable.  Pads on a normal cable, scrubber on this one... no swap out of attachments, and I fancy that the snake may be reducing the number of passes needed.
  • Break Free CLP rocks.  Break Free CLP kicks Otit CLP's butt.  I'm about to throw away what's left of the Otis CLP.  No comparison.  Go buy a gallon jug of Break Free.
  • Hoppe's #9 helps on the 686.  I don't use it on the Boberg, but then I don't shoot lead from the Boberg.  Still, I can swab and scrub a barrel with Hoppe's many times and think it's clean, and then run some Break Free through it and still clean out more dirt, so... yeah -- go buy that gallon of Break Free.  Look up "shizzle" in the dictionary, and it'll say "See Break Free CLP."
  • Still loving the cleaning pad.  They're pretty soft and it's easy to accidentally punch holes in it by pressing too hard on something (say, when re-assembling an RFB).  But they're not expensive, so get a couple.
  • I was wrong about the brushes.  I use all kinds of them, mostly the brass ones.  The steel ones are good for lead fouling.
  • It turns out the cable-based cleaning kits aren't as convenient (for me) for revolvers.  I bought a little rod kit -- one where everything fits in the handle -- and this works much better, and is much faster when cleaning the cylinder.
  • Q-tips.  They'll make life much easier.