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Friday, July 25, 2014

SHTFriday: Making a Paracord Rifle Sling

Between the weather, barfing dogs and squabbling parents, the universe has made it clear that I am not to get any writing done today.

Go enjoy a guest post by Firehand about how to make a paracord sling.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

     Hellblazer is a series that has always been held dear to my heart. I've got the first 5 or 6 trade collections of the comic, and a few later volumes. One day, I'll get around to picking up all the collections, but it has been a rather long-running series. It'll take a while. In the meantime, there's been the occasional adaptation that's cropped up. There was a film about a dark-haired and dark-coated American man named John Constantine that had some rather good points to it (save the presence of Shia LeBouf, whom I maintain there has not yet been built a bus large enough to properly run over), but was certainly no Hellblazer film. I even made a valiant effort to play through the terrible licensed game that was made said film. Rumour has it Castiel from Supernatural was originally supposed to be John Constantine, but licensing fell through, and we got Misha's charming rogue Angel instead.

     Now in the interests of plausible deniability, I'd like to say that while I am aware of the leaked pilot floating around the internet, I certainly haven't seen it, as that would imply some less-than-legal and certainly immoral ways and means, and I would never ever ever partake in such activities. Just so we're clear. Officially, anything I discuss here has been gleaned from various publicly available video clips and discussions. Honest. If you get my drift.

Walked right off the pages, he has.
     Let's get the giant demonic elephant in the room out of the way. Unlike Keanu, Matt Ryan nails the character of John Constantine. The new John is an asshole. He's selfish, lazy, reluctant to get involved, dripping with gallows humor, and prone to answering questions with truths so audaciously unlikely that people assume he's lying. But he's charming, charismatic, trouble that you just can't say no to, and knows that he's probably the only person equipped to deal with the things that he sees. It's a perfect reflection of the way John's been written in the books for decades now. One of the most important details is covered in the very beginning of the pilot episode, that being Newcastle. Years and years ago, John and some of his more irresponsible and experimental occultist friends accidentally damned a young girl's soul to hell, and he's dealt with crippling guilt since. Everything he's done since Newcastle has been motivated by a conflict between his instinct to avoid responsibility and his desire to redeem himself.

      The other characters are a mixed bag. Chas returns, Constantines hapless but faithful friend. He's American now, like he was in the film, but is portrayed by a gruff, bearded Charles Halford instead of the aforementioned (and afore-cursed) Shia. Visually and performance-wise, he hits the mark so well you don't even miss the original nationality. His omnipresent taxi cab is back, but this time it's a classic 50s Chevy instead of the London Black. Again, much more suitable than a 90s Caprice. The cast is rounded out by the angel Manny, played with a menacing charm by Harold Perrineau, and Lucy Griffiths as Liv. Manny's a fantastic character, but I was sadly disappointed by Liv. I have fond memories of Lucy Griffiths in the BBC's cheesy Robin Hood series, but she just falls flat here. Fortunately, I hear there's recasting afoot, and someone will be taking her place, but playing existing character Zed instead, opening up the possibility of an adaptation of the Damnation Army arc from the books.

     The show has a very interesting feel, a mix between more modern exorcism/possession films and higher-quality horror/adventure shows. The special effects are low-key but believable, with what appear to be a lot of practical effects. Lots of shouting in cod-Latin, as you'd expect from pulp horror. The setting was in interesting choice, being not New York or Los Angeles as you'd expect, but Atlanta of all places. Always knew there was something weird about Atlanta. Due to this (and I mean this in nicest possible way) I half expected to see a Winchester brother wander past in the background. The pacing was a bit odd, and the story didn't flow terribly well, but that's something you'd expect from a pilot episode, and doesn't worry me. Sherlock, for example, has a frankly amateurish pilot episode compared to its premiere.

     Overall, I have high hopes for this adaptation, based on the very limited materials I've seen of it so far, having totally not seen the actual leaked pilot episode. It's certainly better than previous adaptations of Hellblazer that I've seen, and I'm encouraged that Matt Ryan really feels like he understands the character. I honestly thing even my pick, Marc Warren, wouldn't have been better for the role. I've got a feeling this could, if properly handled, be at least as good as DC's other successful television property, Arrow.

     And yes, that was Dr Fate's helmet. I have to go squee now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] It's Constantinople, Not Istanbul

Since Erin's doing it, I thought it was high time that I raided the 'inspirations' file and showed off some of the things behind my long-serving Dark Ages Vampire game - the one into which I've put the most effort in terms of resourcing, showing-rather-than-describing.

The following are a series of pillagings from my various folders, which may illustrate something about how I devise and run my settings, or may just be an excuse to look at some pretty medieval (mostly) things. Who knows?

The chronicle (yeuch) began with the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade; theoretically that's twenty-five or so years before the setting date for Dark Ages Vampire, but screw that - why start after the world-shattering cock-up when you can drop players right into the middle of it, have them lose everything they hold dear, and then casually slide in with "oh by the way you're a vampire now"?

I'm a big fan of vaguely medieval maps, too, at least for showing to players. It's a gesture that has a certain verisimilitude about it - modern, Ordnance Survey style maps with grids and scales lead to a sort of modern way of thinking, whereas this kind of thing sort of... grounds people in the moment. This one creates the illusion of a crowded, crammed city, without being overburdened with details or crowding out the larger features (I can easily spot the Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Mese, Varangian Palace, dockmaster's mansion, Jewish and Latin quarters, and all the ways in or out - and that's all that's really needed).

I do use more modern ones with things like gradients and all the churches and distances staked out for planning - this one is the in-game resource. Among its other virtues, incidentally, is its resemblance to the hyper-detailed map from Sold Down The River, which is one of my favourite RPG supplements ever and one I wish I'd kept hold of during the Great Nerdstuff Purge of '08.

The refuge of Lacadaemonia. Just imagine that the land you can see in the background is water, and you'll get there. On this one small slice of land in the middle of the Med, Cainites are safe; they're not obliged to conceal their nature, and they're encouraged, nay instructed, to leave their politicking at the door, on pain of having a pair of Brujah jump up and down on their faces.

Sometimes, of course, the guest is a half-crazed Toreador Methuselah who's recently done diablerie par exellence, is also a closet infernalist, and who will not take "get out or be stomped" as an answer. Isabelle Adjani has exactly the right kind of haunted, fragile-yet-powerful beauty I wanted Mary the Black to have.

(Yes, she's a Toreador in my setting, because thirteen clans is quite enough and I prefer infernalism as a purely cultural practice. If this bothers you, I'm sorry. I also abolished the Ravnos because I hate Chimiestry... Chimerastry... that stupid reality-warping discipline. The Laibon are my thirteenth clan. I'm sure I've committed other blasphemies against canon at some stage.)

Varangian soldiers. Apparently there were, effectively, expatriate Vikings in Byzantium. I can roll with that. The Varangian Guard's keep in the north of the city is a desolate symbol of the Latin conquest, haven to a powerful Nosferatu, a resonant site for our Brujah (who's of Varangian descent himself) and will one day be the centre of resistance against the usurper Prince.

A view from the Med, on returning home from a subplot in Alexandria; a great city under a hunter's moon (yes, it is the moon; be quiet at the back there).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Berliner

The third and final installment of the "no shit, I was really there" series of tales about visiting East Berlin in the 1980s, this post would not have been possible if I hadn't found an old pamphlet while cleaning out the mess from Dad's room. This was given to everyone who rode "The Berliner," the British troop train which made daily trips from West Germany to West Berlin (and back) across the blasted landscape of East Germany.

Between 1945 and 1990 the British military train travelled daily through Soviet occupied East Germany to the British sector of West Berlin. All the train doors were locked, an armed guard was on board and the British military and civil servants would take about 4 hours to cover the distance of 145 miles.-- http://www.derekcrowe.com/post.aspx?id=128

The pamphlet is a quad-fold design, with a map on one side and instructions on the other.

Technically the back of the pamphlet, this is still the first page as it is the one that would be put on display.

This is the reverse side, showing the name and rank of my father (blurred for reasons of privacy) and our dates of travel. From this page the pamphlet unfolds...

... to reveal this bit of history on the right and begin displaying the map (shown below) on the left. There's a fair density of history and geography in these six paragraphs.

Turning the previous page over, the map continues to unfold and this page appears on the right. This is where stuff, as the saying goes, begins to get real. The whole "We are traveling through hostile territory, no fooling" was driven home as armed (yet polite) British soldiers patrolled the train corridors while it was moving.

And here's the map. I have never been on a safari, but I have been on a troop train through terrain where I was told to "watch out on both sides for the guard dogs, barbed wire, minefields and watch towers" and where "tanks and armoured vehicles can sometimes be seen on manoevers".

I'm not sure why the engine was detached and searched twice but the rest of the train was not. If anyone knows, I'd love to be enlightened.

I truly wish I could remember more of the trip. I was ten years old in 1983, and everything seemed larger than life, and yet much of it is blurred.

  • As I mentioned previously, the landscape between Helmstedt and Berlin was a a gray waste as far as the eye could see. I imagine much of the grayness was due to it being late December in Germany, but still I must stress the fact that crossing the border was like was going from Oz to Kansas.  Far off in the distance I could see buildings that looked like they'd been bombed in World War 2 and never repaired. For all I know, that might actually be true. 
  • After all that grayness, being let into West Berlin was such a riot of color and sound and style that it made my eyes sizzle. I understand why West Berliners have such a party attitude; they were living on Entropy's Edge. 
"Berlinermauer" by Noir 
  • Graffitti on the Western side of the Wall was non-stop. I don't think there was a single section that wasn't covered in some way. So far as I know, the police encouraged (or at least tolerated) it, as it was a graphic "FUCK YOU" to totalitarianism. 
"Berlin-Memorial to the Victims of the Wall-1982" by Lyricmac
  • Crossing into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie looked exactly like you'd imagine it did. Guards with mirrors looked under the bus while guards with German Shepherds patrolled around us and guards with assault rifles came aboard and demanded "Papieren, Bitte." 
  • East Berlin, like the rest of the country, was primarily gray. Any colors present were desaturated, like they had been left in the sun for too long and faded. 
  • Yes, the Death Zone on the East side of the wall was as terrible as you think it was. We weren't allowed to take pictures, so these will have to do. 
"East Berlin Death Strip seen from Axel Springer Building 1984" by GeorgeLouis 

"Berlin Wall death strip, 1977" by George Garrigues (GeorgeLouis)

  • This is a really well-done animation of both the Berlin Wall and wall between East and West Germany. Even through the haze of 30 years ago, this feels accurate. 

  • After our visit, we stopped by a museum of of the Wall. The only thing I remember about it were the detailed and amazingly inventive ways people managed to smuggle themselves across to the West. 

And now for a final story:

At some point during our visit to East Berlin -- I think it was after Putin tried to pick up my mom, but I'm not certain -- we stopped at a gift shop that catered specifically to tourists (specifically because East Berliners likely couldn't afford what was being sold there, and probably weren't allowed inside anyway).

There I was, 10 years old and full of energy and bored to death of stodgy old gift shops, so I told my parents I was going out to the parking lot to explore and get some air.  I went outside and, because kids do that sort of thing, I decided to walk behind the building.

When I got to the back of the building - I crap you negative - I saw a semi-trailer parked there, with the rear doors open, and inside was what looked like electronic gear being manned by soldiers in uniform.

Being a good little American, I ran inside and got my father (who was in his full uniform, as required by international treaty), told him he needed to see something, and took him by the hand around the building.

The soldiers there might not have cared if a kid saw them, but one glance at a uniformed member of the United States Army and -- bam! -- they jumped up and closed the doors. I guess my being nosy meant they couldn't have fresh air in their stuffy surveillance trailer.

Of course it was a surveillance trailer. Of course the gift shop was bugged. If anything, the surprise was that they'd be so brazen about it instead of having a spy room in the basement.

That's all I can remember of my visit to East Berlin. It's weird to think that it no longer exists. Sure, eastern Germany exists, but not East Germany. I feel privileged to have visited a country that has passed into history.

Oh, one final bit of funny to wrap this up and bring it full circle to the post that started it all:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Gunday Product Reviews: the Snake Eyes Dead Ringer Sight

This is going to be a long review, so hold onto your hats folks...

Early in the year, I received a set of Snake Eyes sights from Dead Ringer for test & evaluation. This review has been a long time in coming, for various reasons:
  1. The sights are not easily mounted on a pistol. (More on this later.)
  2. I wanted to see if the ghost ring on the back of the slide would interfere with concealed carry and/or drawing from concealment. In order to test the concealed carry portion, I perforce had to carry it for an extended period of time. I daresay that 7 months of carry qualifies as a "long term" test. 
  3. I had picked up several bad shooting habits that I needed to overcome.
Now, I plan to address every single one of these points, but in this instance I'm going to skip ahead to a "good part" and do that before I get to the nitty-gritty.

A Newbie Review

I have a friend, Ian Ng, who lives in California and who is interested in gun ownership. However, due to California being, well, California, he had some difficulty in getting to a range in order to test-fire pistols to see which ones he like. Being a proper gunnie, I told him that if he ever found himself in Florida, I would take him shooting at my local range and he could shoot all of mine.

As it so happens, Ian was in my neck of the woods on May 22, and thus I had the privilege of taking him shooting. One of the guns he fired was my Glock 26 with the aforementioned Dead Ringer sights. I'll let him tell the rest of the story:
On my first real trip to a range*, I was given the opportunity to fire a Glock 26 with a Series 3 Snake Eyes sight from Dead Ringer, amid a field that also included a Ruger Bearcat (.22 LR single-action revolver), Kel-Tec PMR-30 (.22 Magnum semi-auto), S&W Bodyguard (.380 semi-auto) and Ruger LCR (.357 Magnum revolver).
As a very novice shooter, it wasn't surprising to find my groupings all over the place. I mean ALL OVER the place: high and left, low and right, low, really low, left, high right, hey a bullseye, low right, low left, did that even hit the target, right, high, high left. You get the idea.
Among other newbie mistakes like anticipating or dropping the wrist, I had to really work at lining up the posts on all the other guns and never really felt I had a good steady read on the target.
The Snake Eyes sights on the Glock made it really easy. I bought the gun up and there was the ring. Center the post and I was done. I found my focus was stronger and there was a lot less fuss around lining up my shot. 
I shot this gun in the middle of the field, so it was neither my first nor last for the day. My shooting sherpa noted that I was much tighter and closer to the center when using the Glock with the sights, with almost every shot inside the 9 ring. After that I went back to punching out a checkerboard on the target. 
Obviously, I'm not a practiced shooter who would have trained on and gotten used to the standard sights, so I have no idea what it would be like to transition to the Snake Eyes. As a novice, though, I like them a lot and would be looking to get a set myself when I purchase a gun. 
* I had previously gone twice to tourist ranges in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but that's another story for another time. Suffice it to say, they weren't good learning experiences.
This experience is rather common. When I went shooting with Da Tinman and Snooze Button Ronin in the spring, I asked each of them to shoot my pistol and tell me how they liked it. Both of them were enthusiastic about its accuracy and ease of use, and Tinman expressed a desire to buy one and refit it to a 1911. Noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that neither of them carry Glocks -- Tinman carries a Ruger SR9c and Snoozy carries a Boberg XR-9.

I think this information is relevant: when I first used the Snake Eyes sight, I needed several trips to the range to practice with it before I could use it effectively. I am not sure if I simply had picked up bad habits along the way (which is likely) or if Glock shooters need time to adjust to the new sight picture. Perhaps both. However, I think there is at least some truth to the latter, as I am 3 for 3 when it comes to people without preconceived notions shooting my gun and loving the Dead Ringer sights.

Mounting the Sights

This was an adventure in itself, as the product states (both on the website and product packaging) that the "Rear Sight is a press fit application and should be done by a professional gun smith to avoid potential harm to slide or sight". 

My thinking -- and remember, dear readers, why I call myself a Useful Idiot -- was that I could ask my buddy the Glock Armorer down at the Friendly Local Gun Shop to put the sights on and save myself the cost of a gunsmith. When I called him and asked if he'd do it, he was more than happy to oblige -- "I've got a rear-sight removal tool, should be a breeze!" -- and so I went over. 

The original sights came off without a hitch. The new front sight likewise went on without trouble. The rear sight, though...  well, as it turns out, it's just a smidge too wide for the sight tool he owned to get its arms around. 

I shan't detail the hijinks required to get the rear sight mounted and trued... but just to make conversation, did you realize that the Snake Eyes sights are made with "100% military-grade metals"? I don't know what that means, but I assume it means some kind of steel alloy.  Know what's softer than steel? Copper and/or brass heads on a machinist's hammer

I mean, I'm just saying

Obviously I would never endorse such a course of action. It might break the gun or the sight. 

Carrying It Concealed

I have carried my Glock 26 with Snake Eyes sights mounted to it for over 7 months now.  I have carried it under coats and under t-shirts, tucked into shorts and sweatpants and even jeans. I have carried it in the winter, the spring, and the summer.

Not once did I ever have a concealment or draw problem with the ring sight. 

It's simply not as large as the illustrations make it out to be (see picture), and its rounded form did not snag on my clothes. I also never had a problem with drawing it from underneath my cover garment. 

I can't speak for anyone but myself, of course. Perhaps some enterprising idiot will find a way to catch it on their clothes, but this idiot didn't. 

Shooting With It

Let's be honest here:  I have terrible eyesight. I'm nearsighted as heck, I have astigmatism in both eyes (and will probably need bifocals in a few years), and while I'm neither legally blind nor the bearer of Coke-bottle lenses, I will never EVER have 20/20 vision, ever. I think my personal best is 20/30. 

So on a purely personal level, I love the aesthetics of the Snake Eyes sight. It's a big fiber-optic ring that picks up ambient light from everywhere and naturally channels the eye toward the front sight. Finding the center is easy, as the fiber-optic has four "compass points" indicating the center, as well as two high-visibility dots to either side. (If you have the night sight version, these dots are tritium and glow with a brightness that's visible even in shadow.) The front blade also has a high-contrast dot on it. 

In other words, it might as well be a flashing neon "LOOK THIS WAY DUMMY" arrow on my pistol. And because I am a dummy when it comes to shooting, I'll take all the help I can get. 

I shot this today at the range.
20 yards, no laser, just the Snake Eyes sight.

The problem with these sights, as I mentioned earlier, is that they take some practice. I was used to finding the front blade within the U-notch of the back sight, and while I loved all the visual freedom of the ring, it took me a while to figure out exactly how to make it all work. I think the root of my problem was that I allowed myself to get distracted by the dots and arrows, and spent too much time trying to perfectly center the front blade that I neglected everything else, including proper grip and trigger pull. 

Eventually, I realized that I needed to focus on just the front sight and not worry so much about the indicators in the back.  By concentrating on putting the front sight on my target, the rear just naturally floated into place and I started to shoot much more effectively. 

In other words, I needed to find my zen center and realize that there is no spoon -- or in this case, that there is no rear sight -- and by ignoring it on a conscious level my unconscious mind would automatically center it. This, I believe, is why Ian and the others had such an easy time with it: by not being Glock shooters, they had no preconceptions on how the rear sight needed to behave, and so it snapped into place for them. 


Do I recommend this product?  It depends. 
  • If you are a new shooter and you are having problems getting on target, or if you have bad eyesight that is hungry for more light and visual cues, then I recommend this product -- just make sure you have secured the services of a gunsmith to install it for you. 
  • If you are perfectly happy with how your pistol shoots, then the time needed to learn to shoot pistols ghost-ring style isn't worth the effort. If your pistol is largely a safe queen, then I would say it's not worth the expense. 
  • But if you have picked up some bad habits and want to overcome them, then I enthusiastically recommend the Snake Eyes sights. Perhaps I am letting my own biases color my opinion, but I feel that these sights will highlight every mistake you make and drive you to correct your form. 

FTC Disclaimer: This product was given to me for free for testing. I was not paid to write a good review. If I didn't like I would have given it a poor rating, like other reviews I have done. Don't you have real crime to investigate?

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