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Friday, November 27, 2015

SHTBlack Friday

There are some amazing deals to be found out there if you're into prepping. Now's your chance to get some high value gear at lower cost to you, including the current (non-HD) Kindle Fire for only $35!

Check out the rest of the sales (some of them slightly dated, as I wrote the post on Wednesday) over at Blue Collar Prepping.

The Splash 25, a dry bag/backpack with an inflatable frame. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Brief Musing about Star Wars

It's no wonder the Jedi Order fell, what with its ridiculous practice of taking small children, training them with laser swords and psychic abilities, and then telling them "Look, I know you're going through puberty right now, but you aren't allowed a boyfriend/girlfriend because that would be a distraction. Instead, meditate through it."

Frankly, I'm surprised no one pulled an Anakin-style "I want to get laid and I'll kill you all if I have to" massacre sooner.

You want to know how the Dark Side gets its recruits? The Sith let their apprentices fuck. It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: Tech Levels

To head off the likely first question: Since tech level is an important part of a system's Universal Planetary Profile, and the UPP is administered by the Scout Service, I think it's safe to say that the concept of "tech levels" exists within the setting of the game as well as outside it.

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Tech Levels in Traveller are seemingly arbitrary things. For example. TL 1 encompasses everything between bronze-age Greek city-state technology (a la 300), iron-age Roman Empire technology, and Medieval "castles and plate armor" up to but not including the Renaissance -- in other words, TL 1 is "Dungeons & Dragons", and TL 2 begins with the invention of gunpowder. That is a huge spread.

Compare that to the difference between Tech Levels 14 (Zhodani Consulate maximum) and 15 (Third Imperium maximum) and you get... not a lot of difference: Jump-6 vs Jump-5, anagathics, early (read: prototype) black globes, and general quality of life improvements. Essentially, TL 14 vs. TL 15 is the difference between the 1990s and today: we had computers and the internet back then, too, but the tech was slower and its applications had not become essential for daily life the way that global social media, GPS, and portable global telecommunications have today.

In other words, TL 15 is just a fancy way saying "mature TL 14", because the differences as listed are about the same as the difference between early TL 7 (the 1980s) and mature TL 7 (the present).

There are two reasons for this extreme difference at both ends of the spectrum. The first is a mechanical reason: player characters in Traveller exist at the high-TL end of things, and so it's important to know what they, and their opponents, do and do not have access to. (I fondly recall an adventure that my players have taken to calling "Murder Island", where a team of NPC mercs with TL 12 weapons and armor messed up a PC party with access to much higher technology.) Similarly, when protagonists have access to space travel, energy weapons and advanced combat armor, the differences between inferior barbarians becomes academic.

This is Imperial Marine Battledress shrugging off small arms fire.
Do you think it matters to him if your swords are bronze, iron or steel?
No. No, it does not. 
"Differences between inferior barbarians" is actually the second, in-game reason. The Vilani had jump drive (TL 9) while Terrans were building the pyramids (TL 0), and their civilization has lasted for over ten thousand years. If you decide that the fall of the First Imperium and the intermingling of Solomani and Vilani cultures during the Rule of Man counts as the creation of a new, hybrid civilization then it lasted for only eight thousand, but that hybrid has lasted another 3,300+ years. To put that in perspective, the Chinese language & alphabet has existed for only 3,500 years!

Given such an old culture (and the Vilani are ancient -- remind me some day to write a blog post comparing Vilani conservatism /stagnation, Solomani dynamism /instability, and Zhodani stability /homogeneity), there is enormous cultural pressure to equate "oldest" with "best". The entire Major Race/Minor Race division? Entirely a Vilani construct to keep themselves on top as the oldest, and therefore wisest civilization... at least until it was discovered that the Droyne were far older, which may explain some of the Imperial derision towards them that isn't based upon fear and contempt of psionics.

What I am getting after is this: I believe that the Tech Level scale that the Third Imperium uses is deliberately vague and periodically undergoes revisions every few hundred years, compressing the lower ends and lengthening the higher ends. Further, I believe that the Imperium has been TL 15 for so long because it is culturally convenient to have a technological descriptor that is not only large but also a nice, "round" number.  The Imperium is TL 15 because it is important for them to have a higher technology than the other polities around them:
  • Aslan Hierate (peak TL 11, average TL 9)
  • Hiver Federation (peak TL 14, average TL 12)
  • Solomani Confederation (peak TL 14 and estimated to hit TL 15 within a decade, but average is much lower)
  • K'Kree Empire (TL 11, average TL 9)
  • Vargr Extents (balkanized, TLs all over the place)
  • Zhodani Consulate (peak TL 14, average TL 13)
You may note that of the three TL 14 civilizations near the Third Imperium, two of them are hostile and have fought wars with them. (The Hive Federation is more disposed towards psychohistorical manipulation rather than open warfare, and also has to contend with the militant K'krees that it shares a border with.)  In other words, the Imperium MUST have a higher tech level than its enemies for exactly the same reasons that the United States needed a visibly higher technological edge than the Soviet Union: it was good for morale and made opponents think twice about attacking.

The Imperium would be perfectly happily to cruise along at TL 15 forever, slowly compressing lower tech levels downward so that it always stays on top. However, that metric is tied to how Jump drives work in your game, as the key difference between TL 14 and 15 is the creation of the Jump-6 drive:
  • Per first edition Central Supply Catalog, "The ‘Jump-6 limit’ remains in force for some time after the invention of Jump-6 drives. Various promising fields of technology eventually fail to produce a workable Jump-7 or higher drive. However, other technologies continue to advance." (p.6, CSC). 
  • However, second edition High Guard (still in playtest and so subject to change) states that Jump-7, -8 and -9 are feasible at Tech Levels 16, 17 and 18 respectively. This theory is bolstered by Marc Miller's Traveller5 (p.344).
If you adhere to the first school of thought, then the Third Imperium is likely to hover at a stated TL 15 for quite some time, until a significant technological benchmark is reached (such as the invention of antimatter power plants, practical matter-to-energy transmission, or a significant weapons development like a disintegrator0; when that happens, the Imperium is likely to revise its tech level metrics and state "Oh my goodness, look at this, we are actually at TL 17 [or more]." That this will likely leave the Solomani and Zhodani two tech levels behind is deliberate.

However, if you follow the second line of reasoning, things are both more clearly delineated and also more problematic. An additional one parsec in jump distance is hardly worth crowing about unless you're desperate, but if you use this metric then it stands to reason that other developments in Jump can be developed:  perhaps one can reduce the time spent in jump to less than a week. The strategic and logistical advantage inherent in jumping 6 parsecs in four days rather than seven is immediately obvious.

TL;DR the reason Tech Levels are weird in Traveller is because it's beneficial propaganda for the Third Imperium.

Monday, November 23, 2015

PPRMG: LaserLyte Emitters

Last week I talked about the targets; this week I'll talk about the emitters.

Universal Pistol Trainer (LT-PRO)
The LT-PRO is essentially a laser boresight with a universal collar that allows it to fit any pistol from .380 to .45 caliber. This has both good and bad points.

Good: You can put it in a Trainer Pistol (see below) for a dedicated training platform, or you can put it in your carry guns and practice with your actual firearm. This allows for realistic training and one LT-PRO ought to fit all of your needs.

Bad: The emitter is sound-activated and listens for the click of a falling hammer or striker to trigger the laser. This works very well if your pistol has an easily thumb-cockable hammer or is otherwise dual action; however, if you have a striker-fired, single-action pistol like a Glock, you will have to rack the slide after every single shot. As you can imagine, this gets old very quickly, and will probably spur you to purchase one of the trainer pistols.

What's more, this system has a significant drawback: because it is sound-activated, it is listening for hammer-fall all the time. This means that if you forget to remove the batteries after a training session, they will slowly drain as the inbuilt sensor actively listens for the next click, and the next time to you go to train you will end up with dead batteries. (Fortunately, the LT-PRO runs on common LR626 batteries, which can be easily ordered in bulk from Amazon.)

Like all LaserLyte products, the LT-PRO comes with a fresh set of batteries.

Retail: The LT-PRO retails for $120, and while it is available in combo packs, it cannot be bought separately on Amazon. This is because it has since been replaced with the LT-PRE, or Laser Trainer Premium, which also retails for $120 but can be purchased at Amazon for $87.

I have not tested the LT-PRE. From what I can tell, it is similarly sound-activated, so it still has all the drawbacks of the LT-PRO in terms of  slide racking and battery drain. It does, however, have an on/off button for the microphone, which mitigates the hassle of having to unscrew the battery compartment each time.

My Rating: C
My metric for a C is "Functions adequately, but something pisses me off." While the LT-PRO laser emitter does indeed work, the need to turn off something which is not visibly on or risk draining the batters is a source of annoyance for me. Far more irritating is the poor synergy it has with my carry pistol, which is a Glock 26; considering that many law enforcement agencies issue Glocks to their LEOs, I consider this a major drawback. 

I received the full-size pistol (stated as "approximately the same size as a Glock 23"), although a compact-size trainer is also available. These trainer pistols are a cross between blue guns (nonfunctioning pistols shaped and weighted to realistically mimic actual guns for training) and toy guns which go "click" when you pull the trigger.

It's listed as being "weighted and balanced to give the realistic 'feel' of most semi-auto pistols," but on that point I must vehemently disagree; my unloaded Glock 26 weighs about 20 ounces, while the full-size Trigger Tyme weighs only 13.25 ounces.

It does have a working trigger, though, with a 5.5 pound trigger pull (just like my G26), and when it breaks it makes what can only describe as a click-sproing sound; the click is from the trigger breaking, and the spring is from a spring resetting in some manner. The sound echoes down the metal-lined barrel to facilitate the activation of the LT-PRO.

Retail: The full-size Trigger Tyme retails for $55, but can be bought on Amazon for $35. Alternatively, a combination trainer and laser set can be purchased for $98.

My Rating: B
It's not realistically weighted, nor is it shaped like an actual pistol, but considering that proper blue guns cost around $50, this makes an excellent tool for hand-to-hand training or a costume prop. I do not think it makes a good laser trainer, both for reasons related to the LT-PRO's performance and for the following anecdote.

An Anecdote Is Not Data, But...
The first LT-PRO and Trainer Pistol I received had issues:  I would put the laser arbor into the pistol, and it would take several trigger pulls before the laser would realize that I wanted it to activate. It would then activate most of the time, but not always. The problem persisted when I placed the LT-PRO inside of an actual pistol.

I mentioned this to the folks at LaserLyte, who promptly sent me a new LT-PRO. When I placed the laser within the trainer pistol, the problem occurred again, but interestingly enough the problem did not present when I placed the laser within actual pistols.

This leads me to suspect that either both the original LT-PRO and trainer pistol were broken in some manner, or if the laser was broken and the pistol just poorly built. As I am just one reviewer, I cannot draw a definite conclusion.

Trigger Tyme Laser Trainer
Also available in a compact version. this trainer (which I shall refer to as "Laser Tyme" to differentiate it from "Trigger Tyme", above) is leaps and bounds better than its non-laser sibling.

Slightly heavier (15 ounces) and with a trigger that breaks sooner and heavier than the Trigger Tyme, the Laser Tyme solves every problem I have with the LT-PRO and is an honest-to-goodness laser gun.

(I just have to stop and giggle about this. One of my earliest memories is of watching Star Wars at a drive-in, and ever since then I've dreamed of having a blaster. While this trainer doesn't do any damage unless you flash someone in the eyes with it, the fact remains that this is a laser gun and it's mine and I'm holding it in my hands and I'm shooting things with it. Pewpewpewpewpew.)

Where was I? Oh, right. By having a laser integrated into the pistol itself, there's no need to worry about the sound hitting the sensor and activating the emitter; it's all hard-wired into the trigger. Every single trigger pull results in a crisp burst of light, and I don't have to worry about the batteries running out because I forgot to take it apart afterwards.

It also has enormous endurance, with a battery life of 50,00 shots, compared to the measly 3,000 shots of the LT-PRO. (Like all LaserLyte products, batteries come included.)

Retail: Of course, all of this comes at a price: the full-size Laser Tyme retails at $150, and costs the same on Amazon. However, the compact version can be purchased with a single plinking can (reviewed last week) for as low as $90 if you can find them in stock.

My Rating: A+
It does everything I want to do it, and it does it smoothly and perfectly. Unless you truly need a laser that will fit inside your carry gun, save a bit more and get the Laser Tyme instead. You will not be disappointed in its performance.

Combine a Laser Target or a Score Tyme with one of these and you will have so much fun you will practice every day. As I said previously,
Yes, it's expensive. Believe me, I know this better than anyone; I am both poor and cheap. But you will save money with this system, because
  1. Practicing in the comfort of you home means you won't spend money on range fees and gas to and from the range.
  2. You can shoot as often as you like without having to buy expensive ammunition.
  3. Points 1 and 2 mean you will practice much more than you would with real ammo. For example, if I need to stretch my legs or clear my head, I'll fire up the target and take about 20 shots -- and I do this several times a day. That is something you simply can't do at a range. 
Besides, when you think about it, $258 for the Score Tyme and $150 for the laser pistol is still cheaper than a brand new gun. You're actually saving money when you buy this.. or at least that's what you can tell your wife when she asks you how much it cost.

Obligatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this products for free. I was not paid for a good review. I do what I like. Call your mother. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #66
Adam and Sean do bring you Episode 66 of The GunBlog VarietyCast.
  • Erin Palette talks about addictions.
  • In our Foreign Policy for Grownups Segment, Nicki Kenyon talks about the Paris attacks and the refugees situation in the attack aftermath
  • Our Special Guest this week is Ryan Michaud of Handgun Radio. He talks about Nanny Bloomberg's assault on Maine gun owners' rights
  • Barron B is still "On Assignment" with his family.
  • and Weer'd takes Girl Pants Productions to school with another of his Patented Weer'd Audio Fisks™. 
Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!

Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.

A special thanks both to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support and to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout and get 10% off.

Doctor Who: Remembering the Impossible Girl

Spoilers, possibly from the title onwards...

Very rarely do we lose someone to death on Doctor Who. They can be banished to another dimension, decide that they need to live their own life, be stranded in the past, or simply forget everything. But death? That's in the far past, with the Adrics and the Sarah Kingdoms of old. Clara Oswald, once the Impossible Girl with the whimsical Disney Princess-esque musical theme, is no longer with us; and yet will always be with us, splintered throughout the Doctor's timeline, a painful reminder of one of the rare few who fell in the line of duty saving worlds.

Many of us did not really get to know Clara, did not give her a chance after she spent a year as a literal walking plot device, and wrote her off (paradoxically) as yet another misogynistic Stephen Moffat creation (I still say his women are stronger characters than Davies' ever were). But in truth, The Bells of St. John was not the first appearance of Clara Oswald. Nor was it Asylum of the Daleks, or even The Snowmen.

No, the first actual, proper appearance of Clara Oswald was The Day of the Doctor, where she convinced the Doctor to change his history (or to take the action that he had always previously taken, and will always have taken -- wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey), and she didn't come into her own as a character until partly through Deep Breath.

Over the course of two seasons,we saw Clara change from a purposeful Mary Sue of a companion into someone with a life outside the TARDIS and fall in love. Clara was reckless. Clara was impulsive. Clara had control issues. Clara loved, lost, got angry, made mistakes, and saved people.

Clara was a friend, and she'll be missed.

Good soldier. You went out on your feet.
We'll run, Clara. We'll be clever. And we'll remember you.

Oh, right. The episode.

Face the Raven was quite good; the juxtaposition of the quaint, almost stage-like air of the not-Diagon Ally with the urban normality of London worked quite well. I enjoyed seeing Local Knowl- I mean Riggsy again. He was quite good as Clara's sidekick (or Companion's companion, if you like).

The quantum shade and the raven were nice touches, and remind me heavily of the Faction Paradox spinoff universe, where agents of House Paradox use their shadows as weapons.It also worked as the culmination of all the little character hints that we've gotten about Clara becoming, as I mentioned, reckless and impulsive, as she was too clever for her own good in this episode, and it came back to bite her, hard. She did, however, face the consequences of that decision, and sacrificed herself to save the life of someone that she believed in.

The Doctor's reaction requires special mention, as well. Capaldi's quiet rage easily dwarfs that of both Tennant and Smith, reminding me heavily of Smith's “Colonel Run-Away” moment at Demon's Run and Tennant's punishment of the Family of Blood. I'm still unsure whether he meant what he promised Clara, or if he simply told her that so that she could go peacefully. 

The only major problem I have with this episode is that they telegraphed the stasis pod so hard that I kept waiting for him to throw Clara into it and switch it on so the raven couldn't get her.
I'm looking forward to solo Capaldi's episodes next week, but at the same time I still can't help but be miffed that Sleep No More's many, MANY questions still go unanswered. I certainly hope they plan on re-visiting that episode before long. It didn't have to be this week, due to the non-linear nature of time-travel plots, but there's more to that story that needs to be explored.

[mad author's edit] NON LINEAR NATURE

His hair's all wrong. Where's his jumper? Who was he explaining the bootstrap paradox and Beethoven to? How did Missy get his disk in episode one and why did Mayor Me take it in this episode? We're out of chronological order again and that would mean Clara's been dead for... what, ten episodes? Oh dear, I've gone cross-eyed. 

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