Monday, December 28, 2009

Kel-Tec P32 Review - Mousegun Mirth!

.32 Auto Keychain

Words cannot describe how happy I am so far with this gun.

Yeah, it's that good. And it is so good because it is so surprising.

It is not surprising because of it's superior Browning design (I don't know of another tilt-barrel pistol of this size), because it shoots a decently powerful .32 cartridge and yet manages recoil very well, because it is less than 7 ounces, five inches long, and less than an inch thick, and practically disappears in a pants pocket. It is not even good because it is reliable and acccurate.

It is surprising because it manages ALL of these tricks at once. This is a gun you can carry when you don't want to carry a gun. Stick it in your pocket, and it disappears, not to be thought of until you need it, or you get home and empty your pockets.

Now, there are people who look down their noses at the .32 auto. I agree. Although I regularly carry a 9mm, I sometimes feel that isn't enough gun. And, it a perfect world, I wouldn't consider anything less than a .40.

But, every one of those other guns has serious drawbacks to carrying. My full size 9mm, the Bersa Thunder, can be carried in an inside the pants holster, but the handle often prints through whatever shirt I wear over it. Plus, after a few hours, it tends to become uncomfortable.

I also have a Kel Tec P40, which I carry in a separate waist pouch. The waist pouch works great, but you have to deal with the extra bulk of carrying something "outside" your body. Also, access isn't great, because you still have to unzip it to draw your weapon.

But, when you shove the P32 in your pocket, it is as accessible as anything else in your pocket. And, no one will ever know you are carrying it.

It beats going unarmed, and that's the point. As a friend said, it beats throwing rocks.

Or, as I like to say, I don't know of a gun with which anyone would like to be shot. Any gun is better than no gun.

But, that's not to say that this is a bad gun.

The Kel-Tec is surprisingly accurate and smooth. I could punch holes in a tin can with reasonable regularity out to 10 yards, which is all one can expect for such a weapon. It cycled reliably with everything I fed it, except for some old, old rounds that actually had corrosion on the outside of the cases. On one, it struck the primer but the round didn't go off...not the gun's fault. On another, the last round wasn't powerful enough to push the slide back far enough to lock. Other than those (obviously ammunition related) minor issues, there was not a single problem.

Despite it's ultra light weight, the Kel-Tec was comfortable to shoot. I had initially avoided getting one of these for my wife because of reports that the recoil was stiff. I went with an AP-MBP .32 for her instead. But it seems to me that the Kel-Tec doesn't really recoil any more severely than that gun, despite being half its size. She could shoot it easily, and she had no problem racking the slide. She liked the way the Kel-Tec felt in her hand, and of course, it's "cute". She might end up taking it from me.

Guys...if you have a significant other who can shoot any handgun above a .22, rest assured that the Kel-Tec will be no problem for her.

Conclusion: The Kel-Tec will probably start going with me everywhere. I might carry it by itself, or as a back-up-gun, but it is so light and convenient, there is no reason NOT to carry it around with me everywhere. What is surprising from something this small and inexpensive ($249 at the local sporting goods store) is that the Kel-Tec is a real gun...not just a novelty that doesn't deliver on its promise.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I Am Beginning To Hate Dish Network...

During the past week, we had some severe winds. My satellite dish got knocked out of alignment, so I went online to request a service call.

As I was on the Dish Network site, I figured I might as well browse around to see if I wanted to change my service.

I have the 250 channel Gold package, and thought about downgrading to the $10 cheaper Silver package. But, as I started pricing the different packages, that they obviously don't want you to know what you will be paying for satellite service! Look at this:

Here's the price of the Silver package as displayed on Dish's front page:

And, once you log in, the price changes:

I understand the idea of luring in customers with reduced rates, but then, you go to the page where you add or remove services, and you see this:

Why the difference? And, perhaps the best invoice:

One company, four different prices for the same service. Dish Network has NEVER been able to adequately explain to me how their billing is set up. I suspect that they don't know either. If they did, they might actually have to explain options that would save their customers money. And we can't have that...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The $5 Camera...Mamiya 1000 TL

I learned photography on an old Praktica LTL that was my dad's. He used it the whole time I was growing up to take pictures of my family, our vacations and everything else. The old M42 screw mount body was built like a tank and took great pictures, and it's humble origins in communist East Germany ensured that the price was right. It was the perfect camera for a college kid wanting to learn how to take good pictures, and I used it to great effectiveness back in the early 90's.

Alas, the old Praktica doesn't work so well anymore. The mirror is really dim, the film advance doesn't seem to work correctly, and the focus ring on the old 50mm Pentacon lens is so stiff as to be unusable. I retired it several years ago, after it shot a roll of film and left huge gaps in between the pictures, meaning I got several shots that were halves of two other shots! Disappointing, but the Praktica had more than done it's duty. I still have it, and will never get rid of it, but it is retired for good.

So, during a recent vacation to the Outer Banks, you can imagine my great joy when I found an old camera bag in a thrift store, tucked into the back corner of the room. I opened it to find this:

I wasn't familiar with the 1000 TL, but I was familiar with Mamiya. Before digital, I can remember salivating at their medium format stuff. At $5, the 1000 TL didn't even warrant testing. I figured if it didn't work, I could put it on eBay as a parts camera and at least make my money back.

I began looking around in the bag, which looked to be mid sixties vintage (the 1000 TL was made from the late 60's through early 70's). There were several vintage Hoya filters, a lens hood, a bayonet mount converter (to what, I have no idea), and a Soligor 135mm f/2.8 lens. Hoo boy. Jackpot.

But, when I got it out of the store, I discovered that the light meter actually worked. The shutter snapped crisply, and everything seemed to be in order. Best part was, it was an M42 mount, just like my old Praktica, so all my old lenses and teleconverter would work.

By today's standards, nothing in this kit is impressive, but back in the day, this was a solid piece of photographic equipment. It has shutter speeds from 1/1000 all the way down to 1 sec, plus B. I already have a shutter trip cable that can lock open the shutter for any amount of time I want. It has a self timer which will trip the shutter after about 10 seconds. It doesn't have a hotshoe, which is perhaps the only thing lacking that I really could have used, but since I don't plan on shooting indoors much with this camera, it's not really a problem.

It looks very clean inside and out, although, as is common with cameras this age, the light seals look cruddy. I've already ordered some black string and light seal foam to completely redo the whole thing. Nevertheless, I have a roll of Superia Xtra 400 in it right now, just to see if this thing works or not.

Regardless of how it turns out, I'm pretty happy to have found this. If it works well, it will be all that much better.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hi Point C9 Review...A Lot of Time and Effort, Very Little in the Way of Results.

I had rotten luck with the Hi Point C9. That might make some mad. Heck, it makes ME mad! But, the truth is the truth.

I tried to like the C9, which is Hi Point's 9mm pistol. I really did try to like it. I bought an extra mag for it to try to make it work better, but it jammed. I sent it back to Hi Point to see if they could get it to work. They did some work on it, declared it cured, and shipped it back. It still jammed. I took it apart and polished the feed ramp, adjusted the mag lips, replaced the magazines, replaced springs, etc. It went from jamming to the last-round-hold-open (LRHO) activating before the mag was empty.

And, it was a crying shame, because the little C9 is about as accurate a 9mm pistol as you'd ever want. It was so easy to put round after round into the same hole (or nearly so) time after time. On the impromptu target you see above, the two shots on the right are the "sighting in" shots. I gave the rear sight a couple clicks to the left then proceeded to shoot the rest of the rounds that hit in the middle. Nice.

But, I had to quit kidding myself. All the tweaking, all the work, all the parts changes just didn't seem to make a difference in this little gun. And as much as I hate to say it, and as much as I want it to work, it is getting to the point where I'm putting a lot of time and effort into this gun and not getting much in return.

Before you start saying that I'm being unfair, keep in mind that I have had this gun for almost a year, and I've really stuck with it. Before you accuse me of being a snob against cheap guns, remember that I bought my wife an AP-MBP .32 for just over $130 with tax, and it is a fine weapon. Before you accuse me of being an anti Hi Point bigot, please find my post where I review the JHP .45 and sing its praises. Also, understand that I have a 995 Carbine in my stable. It is tricked out with an ATI stock and dual mag holders. It is one of my favorites, and rides in a shorty case along with my pistol grip Mossberg (I call that my "riotpak").

And yes, I've seen this:

And believe me, if my C9 performed like that, I'd never think of getting rid of it.

Maybe next weekend I'll give it one more shot. They say that the C9 is very sensitive to how you grip it. I don't think this has anything to do with the slide locking open, but you never know.

Depending on what happens, I might just have a gun for sale next week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bersa Thunder 9mm HC Pro Review (and comparision with the Ruger P89).

After a lot of effort, I finally got it! Surprising how difficult it is to find one of these things, but after much perusing of on-line gun classifieds, I finally snagged this one from GunsAmerica. As I review this gun, I'm also going to make some comparisons to the 9mm that used to be my main auto, the Ruger P89.

First, a little background. Both of the pistols have roots in military or law enforcement service, as well as origins with legendary firearms manufacturers. The Bersa is the service pistol of the Argentinian National Gendarmerie (police force), and while Bersa might not be a name with a pedigree, the Thunder 9 is based on the Walther P88 design, and the manufacturing seems to be solid. The Ruger's reputation comes simply from being a Ruger. They have been known for making tough, reliable firearms with anvil like durability. And most people DON'T know that the Ruger P85 (an early version of the P89) was a principal competitor when the military was looking for a replacement for the venerable 1911. It was actually created to fulfill that contract, so it was designed from the ground up for rough treatment and problem free operation. Although I'm pleased with the Bersa, I haven't owned one for ten years as I did the P89, so I can't speak to long term reliability. The P89 never failed me once during that time...not one mis-feed, jam, or breakage of any kind, even after thousands of rounds. That says a lot.

The bottom line? The pistol was $339, and was purchased from Roberston Trading Post out of Tennessee. These people are friendly, helpful, and made the whole thing easy. Plus, they had the best price around on the gun, they shipped for only $15, and didn't charge me a percentage fee for using a credit card. They are a class act all the way, and I highly recommend them.

My own FFL charged me only $10 to do the transfer, for a total price of around $365. You can get P89's in this price range, so as far as that goes, it's a toss up.

Both the Bersa and the Ruger are inexpensive for what they are: high quality 9mm pistols. The Ruger's quality is legendary, but is the Thunder 9 a good value for the price?

So far, it seems that way. The Bersa is impressive. I've only put around 100 rounds through it (and they go fast, through the Bersa's two 17 round mags that are included with the pistol). I shot a mixture of hollow point and ball ammunition of 3 different brands and I'm happy to report that the Bersa gobbled everything down without issue and was quite accurate. They say that the accuracy of these guns improves even more as you shoot them, but this gun is pretty good already.

I did three tests at 10, 15, and 20 yards, using targets on standard 8.5 x 11" paper. I didn't have a single round off the paper. Correlate that to a bad guy, and you're talking about a small space in which most of the vital organs reside. Obviously, the closer I was, the better. At 10 yards, it was not difficult to get 2" groups consistently. I feel that my own ability (or lack thereof) was keeping me from achieving even tighter groups, although I felt my accuracy improved as I shot through the hundred rounds.

Am I more accurate with the Thunder than the P89? Not necessarily. The issue that makes the Bersa so much sweeter is the trigger. The P89 is "stagey", with a long pull, even in single action. You pull the trigger back to what feels like a stop, then you have to take up even more trigger. You then get a fair amount of creep before the gun discharges. In contrast, the Bersa has no staging...just a little creep, then it fires. The P89 can shoot accurately, but the trigger makes you work at it.

After a hundred rounds, I didn't notice any fatigue or pain from recoil with the Bersa. The gun shoots smoothly and comfortably. At first, I was wary of the hard plastic grips, but I found them easy to hold and very form fitting and "meaty" for my large hands. I would like a rubber grip option, something other than a Hogue slip-on, but it is not a pressing issue. The Bersa grips are fine. I did take the sheen off of the grips by buffing them a bit with steel wool, and this improved both the appearance and feel of the grips.

Of course, the P89 grips are thin. I had a set of Hogue wraparounds that helped that a bunch, but the factory Ruger grips weren't nearly as comfortable to me. Also, it seems to me that the longer and more upright grip angle of the Bersa fits my style of shooting much better.

The Bersa has several options on it that make it a great value for the money. The "round chambered" indicator is nice, although I'd rather it be on the side than on top. I guess the idea is to make it easy to see when you are aiming, because it will be right where you are looking. But, if it were either on the left or the right, it would be simple to FEEL it, eliminating the need to look altogether. But, that's nitpicking, considering the P89 had NO round chambered indicator.

It also has polygonal rifling like the CZ82, which may not be an advantage from an accuracy standpoint, but will probably last longer than a barrel with traditional rifling. Also, the firing pin is reinforced to allow dry firing practice. I don't know how safe it is to do that, but I've heard in more than one place that the reinforcement was done for that purpose. I dry fired it a couple of times without any ill effects, but it is not something I'd want to do day in and day out.

Furthermore, the Bersa has an integral front rail and Glock style "dot U" sights. They are far easier to see than the Ruger's traditional dot sights. I'd like to have a laser at some point, but I think it would make holstering a challenge. And, shooting the Bersa is easy enough that it is really not necessary. EDIT: Since writing this, Bersa has begun to ship their Pro series with dovetail sights, front and rear.  By all accounts, they are compatible with Sig #8 sights, so upgrading should be easy.

Needless to say, the Ruger has traditional rifling, regular 3 dot sights, and no integral rail. To be fair, the Ruger design dates back to 1985, and other Ruger pistols have been updated with the features found on the Bersa, so we're kind of comparing apples and oranges, but there are still a lot of P89's out there for sale in this price range, which makes these guns compete with one another in the market.

Take-down is not difficult for either pistol, but the Bersa makes it so simple that a child could do it. You simply eject the mag and flip a lever down. The slide comes right off. Pull the guide rod and spring out, push the barrel forward and down, and you've just field stripped the pistol.

The Ruger requires you to lock the slide back and push the ejector down so that the slide can come forward. Then, holding the gun in your right hand as if you were shooting, place your index finger on the take-down pin. While holding a little bit of back pressure on the slide, push the take-down pin through slightly. With your left hand, grab the other side of the take-down pin (which doubles as the slide lock) and pull straight out. The pin won't come out, but it will move far enough out of the way to let the slide come forward. Then, just like on the Bersa, pull the guide rod and spring out, push the barrel forward and down, and you're finished.

Basically, you need only complete these steps in reverse to reassemble, but on both pistols, it takes a bit of fiddling to get the slide lined back up so that the take-down lever or pin re-engages. Neither is difficult, but the Bersa is brain-dead simple.

There is a world of difference in the finish between the two pistols. The P89 has a durable finish that can withstand a lot of abuse. I've dropped it, scraped it, bumped it, and so on. I forgot and left it in my truck for 2 weeks and found it coated with a light dusting of rust over the blued slide. A little steel wool and gun oil fixed it up good as new, showing no discernible damage. Of course, the frame was powder-coated or some other such tough finish and never had any scratches or thin spots.

Like the Ruger, the Bersa's frame is finished just fine. Unlike the Ruger, the slide is a disaster. I've heard this is not uncommon for the matte versions, which is why I originally wanted a nickel finish, but they were impossible to find, so I settled. I almost wish I hadn't. The finish itself is uneven and splotchy. It looks as if it ALWAYS has an uneven coating of oil on it, because some areas had a sheen and were almost glossy, while others were truly matte looking and dull. I personally don't care whether or not it is glossy or flat, but Bersa needs to pick only ONE! It is a shame, because this horrible finish almost ruins an otherwise handsome looking gun.

I've since corrected the problem by ordering a replacement nickel slide from Eagle Imports ($65), pictured above.  That solved my only complaint with the Bersa.  It now looks quite handsome. My advice is to order the nickel or duotone from the beginning, although I have heard reports that Bersa has solved the mottling on the matte slide.
Bersa warrants their pistol for life for the original owner. I've heard their service is very good. I've also heard that Ruger's is as well, but I don't know the terms of their warranty.

My recommendation? As far as I can tell now, you can't really go wrong with either pistol. But the fact is, the Bersa seems like a much more full-featured pistol for the money, especially if you have the extra scratch for the nickel finish or a buddy who's crafty with Duracoating. But, that's an extra step that you don't have with the Ruger. Plus, the Ruger is a known quantity. You know it will never fail you, because it is built like a tank.

I will give more info on the Bersa's reliability as time goes on. If it is as good as the Ruger's, then the choice is a no-brainer.

UPDATE, June 2015: Several years on, the Bersa continues to perform reliably. It runs well, even dirty, and accuracy is very good. The funny thing is, I originally got this pistol as a stopgap until I could get a CZ, but I don't see any real need to upgrade at this point. The price point has increased somewhat...the cheapest I've seen the Thunder 9 HC is right around the $400 mark.  Still a bargain for a solid, reliable combat handgun.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Idiocy, thy name is NCAA....

Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant talked to Deion Sanders. He worked out with him, had lunch with him and received text messages from him.

Did he violate NCAA rules?

What? You don't know?

That's the point. Who knows? To understand the arcane and convoluted NCAA rules, one probably needs the help of a slide rule, a sextant, a wizard, a Latin interpreter, a Ouija board, and the Rosetta stone.

Dez Bryant certainly didn't know. And in a moment of panic, he lied because he simply wasn't sure if he'd broken a rule or not.

He was wrong to lie. He should be punished for lying. But lying is NOT nearly as bad as punching someone in the face.

Or is it?

Maybe he should have done that when they asked him.

NCAA official: "Mr. Bryant, did you visit with Deion Sanders?"

Dez Bryant: Wham!

I say this because the player who punched another in the face actually was reinstated and played later in the season. Unfortunately, Dez Bryant won't get another opportunity.

The message: Thuggery will be tolerated, and eventually forgiven. Making a bad decision in a moment of uncertainty will not.

And another thing...considering the organization has been working on the Reggie Bush/O.J. Mayo/USC investigation since 2005 without taking ANY punitive action against ANYONE, it certainly didn't take them long to drop the hammer on Bryant, did it?

Idiocy, thy name is NCAA...

Smoking meat without a to convert your charcoal grill.

I love smoked meats. I'm talking about warm or hot smoking, not cold smoking, although I like that too. But, warm smoking is easier than what you imagine, especially if you already have a charcoal grill. The items needed are fairly simple, inexpensive and easy to get. They include:

1 large sized charcoal grill
2 or 3 regular bricks (dry)
1 bag of hickory or mesquite chips (or, if you have another smoking preference, about 2 lbs of whatever species of wood you like).
Double the amount of charcoal you normally use to grill.
Lighter fluid or denatured alcohol.
3-4 hours of time

You can use this method for beef or pork, but it also works great for poultry. I used it with cornish game hens, which I stuffed with mushrooms and onions, and it was absolutely delicious. Salmon steaks or fillets smoke equally well.

To start, find the vent in the top of your grill, if you have one. Ideally, the meat should be near the vent, so that the meat is exposed to all of the smoke that is generated by the charcoal/woodchip combination. If your vent is fixed, this needs to be the first consideration before positioning anything else.. Divide the bottom of your grill where you normally put the charcoal by placing bricks across. The idea is to only use half of the bottom of the grill. This will allow the meat to cook without overcooking, since the meat will not be exposed to the direct heat of the fire.

Pour charcoal on the opposite side of the grill where you plan to put the meat. Start it with lighter fluid. If you don't want to risk getting a lighter fluid taste in your meat, use denatured alcohol burns just as hot, but doesn't create fumes. Let it soak in for a short time, but don't wait too long because it will evaporate. Light it and let it burn down. You might not see the alcohol flames, but you'll know when it is out because the charcoal will begin to smoke.

Place a generous handful of woodchips on the charcoal, and place your meat on the opposite side.

Once you get it up and running, it should look like this:

Pardon the crude drawing.

Once the charcoal is burning, and you've added enough wood chips, you need to keep monitoring the fire. You may need to add charcoal to keep the fire going. Do so a little at a time so you don't put everything out. Add chips as they burn up. You might use several handfuls before you are finished. The meat will cook slowly, and look more and more delicious as it cooks:

After three hours or so, the meat will develop a black coating. It doesn't look appetizing, but it serves a very important purpose. It becomes impermeable and holds in the juices. When I tore the skin off of this bird, the meat juices dripped out onto the plate.

The taste is incredible. Slow cooking the meat makes it positively delicious, and as I said, when you peel back the outer layer, the juices run out. A delectable mild smoke flavor permeates the meat inside. If I were to REALLY get into smoking meats, I'd buy a dedicated meat smoker, but for occasional use, this is cheap and it works great.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

EASY feed ramp to improve ANY auto pistol's reliability in 10 minutes.

You'll need:

600 grit sandpaper
1000 (or finer) grit sandpaper
Dremel tool or equivalent.
Felt wheel attachment
Automotive rubbing or polishing compound.

1) Remove the slide. If you can remove the barrel, do that too.

2) Using the 600 grit, lightly smooth the feed ramp. Also, remove any rough edges around the chamber, taking care not to bevel it. You want to SMOOTH the metal, not REMOVE it. Do as LITTLE as possible in order not to change the geometry of the chamber or feed ramp.

3) Repeat with the 1000 grit. This should take out the tiny scratches that the 600 grit left behind.

4) Now, take the Dremel with the felt wheel attachment. Coat lightly with the polishing compound. Be careful to hold this away from your face when you start it, else it may sling compound in your eyes.

5) Polish the ramp, if possible by moving UP and DOWN the ramp. Do this until you have a chrome-like finish.

6) Wipe and clean thoroughly, being sure to remove any polish residue. If necessary, swab the bore as well.

7) Your feed ramp should be nice and shiny and look like this:

8) Reassemble your gun. Go test it out.

Coming soon - Bersa Thunder 9mm HC Review

UPDATE: Find the full review here.

Yep. It is, as they say, in the mail.

Or rather, with a BATF approved carrier, since I believe it is illegal to send handguns through the mail. Whatever. Not my problem, since it is coming from a source on the Internet to my local FFL holder. All gun laws are stupid anyway. Hear that liberals? That's right. Without getting into a bunch of political or philosophical mumbo jumbo, let's just reflect that we didn't have a huge problem with gun violence until we started making all these stupid gun laws.

As John Lott said (and found to be true through his studies), "More guns = less crime". But I digress.

I originally wanted a CZ-75. And, I still do want one, and plan on getting one. But, I figured there's no point in being without a 9mm until then. Guns don't lose much value, especially when they're well made like the Bersa and cost so little to begin with. And ultimately, if I like the Bersa, I will keep it and start from scratch to renew the gun fund to get the full amount to add the CZ to my collection instead of trading the Bersa for it.

I had been looking at the Bersas for a while and was impressed with the design. So, after much deliberation, I "pulled the trigger". Clever euphemism there, huh?

Hopefully, it will be here by this weekend and I'll get to take it out. If not, my review might be delayed a week. Keep checking back.

A Review of MacPup .061 / Puppy Linux - Save your Old Machine!

Behold the computer that would not die.

It is a Compaq Presario 1279. It was made over 10 years ago, and featured a cutting edge OS called Windows 98. It was top of the line, and featured a CPU that ran at speeds reserved for desktops...433 megahertz. It was hopped up to the unfathomable 192 MB of ram, and an impressive 20 GB hard drive.

It has been bashed, beaten and bruised. It has had various liquids poured into its keyboard. It has been dropped, while in the case, from a five-foot-high closet shelf. And, the only thing that ever went wrong that required a repair was an LCD inverter ordered from eBay for a mere $12.

It was my first laptop. I bought it used from eBay several years back. My second laptop, by the way, didn't last three years.

They don't make them like this anymore.

I don't use the laptop very much now. The keyboard was never the best...unless your fingers push straight down on the keys, they tend to stick. It has a small 13" screen with a max resolution of 800x600. The LCD backlight itself is dimmer than it looks in the picture. And, despite its compact size, it is heavy to hold on your lap, as all the weight is concentrated in a smaller area.

And, I can't give up on it. It just keeps working, so I keep updating it and pulling it out from time to time to use it.

It gets even less use now that I've gotten a netbook, as this old Compaq was relegated to back-up duty until the Acer came along. Now, it mostly sits in a closet, but it still has a modern, up to date operating system. Here's an actual screenshot:

That's MacPup Opera, a version of Puppy Linux. It is a beautiful and mostly easy to use operating system that works great on older computers. I have run it on computers with as little as 300 Mhz and 128 MB of RAM. And, while not blazing fast, it is fairly snappy and very usable.

The standard version of Puppy works well, and is probably even a little more zippy, but it has a definite "bargain basement" feel to it. Many of the wizards and utilities carry over to MacPup, but the Enlightenment 17 interface hides a lot, and makes it look infinitely better. Even an old computer can run the desktop widgets, animated icons, and shadowed, animated menus, without a noticeable penalty in speed or responsiveness.

Which begs the question...why does Gnome or KDE use so much ram and processor? Hmmmm? Maybe there's a lesson for the big boys to learn here.

Standard Puppy uses the Seamonkey browser. That's the latest version of the old Mozilla browser, which isn't bad, but it makes one wonder why Puppy doesn't default to the old and familiar standby, Firefox. Granted, there's not much difference between Firefox and Seamonkey, but there are some quirks that die-hard Firefox users will have to accept. But, its easy enough to fire up the user friendly Puppy Package Manager and install a full fledged, if a bit outdated, version of Firefox. If you poke around on the web and in the Puppy Linux forums, you can even find a 3.X version. But, MacPup goes one better and installs what I think is the best browser for resource limited computers: Opera.

Opera, while perhaps not as extensible as Firefox, is still pretty darn good. It is very, very snappy, even with low power machines, yet it is a "full-featured" browser, with a built in email client, and some extensibility via its Widget system. So, just because you may be using a stripped-down computer, you don't necessarily have to use a stripped down browser.

The Macpup version of Opera even comes with a skin that makes it fit in well with the MacPup theme. The whole thing just LOOKS good. I'd always accepted that users would have to do without the eye candy if they wanted to use a lower-resource machine. Not so with MacPup, Opera and Enlightenment 17.

Plus, it comes with a variety of software that the average person might need, plus lots of extras that can be installed using the Puppy Package Manager. You get a MS compatible word processor, an MS compatible spreadsheet, a program for browsing networks, tabbed web browser with Flash and email client, instant messenger (via web interface), and a bunch of other stuff. Many of the programs are low-resource versions of other programs. They all run rather well, even in low resource environments.

Is this a system that a beginner could use? Yes, with a little practice and as long as someone had a little help from the beginning, which would be true for any operating system. Since everything is menu-driven and intuitive, it should just be a matter of browsing those menus until you find the program or utility you need. I got my Dad, who has some computer experience, but no Linux experience, a cheapo laptop from eBay and put Puppy on it. He uses it for basic browsing and word processing, and even transfers documents through his home network between it and his Windows computer. For him, it is a way to get on the internet or type a document without having to walk downstairs to his desktop computer. For that, it works great. Kinda like a netbook, except with a full-sized keyboard and monitor. Oh, and it is only 1/3 the cost of a netbook, because the hardware is just a used laptop and a cheapo wireless card.

Could a newbie set it up themselves? Perhaps, if they had a second computer and could consult the Puppy Linux forums and ask questions. If I simply turned someone loose on Puppy/MacPup and said, "Install it", I think the chances would be slim. Maybe with Ubuntu, but not MacPup. I'm not saying that as a shot at is a lightweight OS, so it is what it is, and in most cases, the people who want it can install it. But, people who use Linux continually want to say that Linux is easy to install, and for the most part, they are right, but you still have to have a knowledge of how to install operating systems. No more knowledge than people would need to install Windows XP, but there is knowledge required nonetheless. I'm a Linux fanboy, but I'm realistic.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the performance and ease of use of MacPup .061. If you have an old computer sitting idle, why not fire it up and put MacPup on it, to make it a reliable little websurfer with a few extra features, and a nice looking interface to boot? Can't think of a better use for old hardware than that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Another cheap pistol - AP-MBP Review

My wife is getting her concealed carry permit. So, the time came to buy her a dedicated carry pistol of her own. I agonized over this quite a bit. I came up with some criteria that the new gun had to meet.

It had to have low recoil. The Kel Tec P32 was probably too small for her to handle easily, and I was worried about recoil in such a small gun. The Bersa .380, Makarov, PA-63 and CZ 83 were nice enough, but with a larger caliber, I'd read about the stout recoil of those guns too.

It also had to have a halfway decent amount of stopping power. Of course, a 9mm or even a .380 would be ideal, but maybe unmanageable for her. I even thought about going down to a .22 caliber pistol, but I didn't want her to defend herself from a bad guy with a round intended for a squirrel.

And, it had to be inexpensive, but reliable. I didn't mind paying a few hundred for it, but I didn't want to break the bank.

After a long search, I finally found a pistol that was small, but not too small; light, but not too light, and with a fairly low recoil, yet not dropping down to the inadequate .22 round, all for well under $200: the Hungarian AP-MBP.

Fortunately, it also goes by AP-7, or AP-7,65 (yes, with a comma). Those are better than AP-MBP, which is a dumb name, but at least they didn't call it "Manatee" or "Raging Pig". As it is, too many meaningless letters. I don't like the name. At all.

That's the only negative I have to say about this nifty little .32 auto pistol. Now, here are the positives.

1) Price - Actual sale price was $120. Got it "out the door" for around $132. My dad was impressed with the pistol, never dreaming it was this cheap. He was thinking it would go in the mid $200's. Now that he knows how inexpensive it is, he wants one for himself.

2) Quality - Titanium aluminum alloy frame, based on the Walther PP series pistols, a proven design. Made by FEG, who's quality is respectable, if not legendary.

3) Performance - I would trust the AP-MBP enough at this point to carry it. This thing digested a variety of hollow point and round ball ammo without a hitch. The mag is INCREDIBLY hard to load, probably more so that any other magazine in any other gun I've ever had. And, the rounds have a tendency to nose-down in the mag, but that doesn't seem to make a bit of difference, as everything loads just fine. The spring pressure is so tight that the feed lips score the rim of the cartridge if you pull one out, and you believe that the smallish slide will NEVER be able to grab the rounds out of the mag. But, the rounds are easily stripped and go into the chamber reliably. I did polish the feed ramp, mostly out of boredom.

And, the thing flat out shoots. It shot about 2" left at first, but a few taps on the rear sight with a hammer and a brass punch got it lined up. After that, it was not hard to get a 1 1/2"-2" group at 10 yards, more than accurate enough for self-defense work. I know people say that the .32 isn't much of a defensive round, and I agree. But, the AP-MBP is handy enough that you'd carry it in situations that other guns would be left at home because of their size. It's better than throwing rocks.

4) Customizability (is that a word?) - Lots of parts available for the AP-MBP, largely because of the great commonality of parts with the larger caliber PA-63. You can get spring sets to adjust slide resistance, recoil, trigger pull, etc. Plus, you can get aftermarket wood grips and holsters as well.

I already did some work on this one. Most AP-MBP pistols come with a black anodized frame, and it's not uncommon for them to be worn around the front and rear straps on the grips. I stripped the black off and polished the underlying titanium/aluminum frame to a fairly high sheen. This made it look like a completely different gun. Maybe not like new, but far easier on the eyes than the original black frame, and with much more character. I also gave it a good cleaning and touched up some worn spots in the bluing on the slide. It looks a LOT better than it did when I got it.

If you can't tell, I like the AP-MBP a lot. If you like small guns, .32 autos, service weapons, or if you always wanted a Walther PP but didn't want to pay over $500, you can't go wrong with the AP-MBP.

UPDATE: Nearly impossible to find "original" magazines for this gun, but many sources on the Internet have reported success using the larger caliber (and far easier to find) PA-63 magazines. I have compared them side by side, and they don't LOOK the same, but seemingly, the 9x18 PA-63 mag will feed the .32 caliber rounds reliably. Who'd have thought? I'm going to test this for myself, and will report back when I have results.

ANOTHER UPDATE: One issue with the AP - the decocker doesn't work. Actually, it works on rare occasions, but most of the time, moves halfway to the "safe" position, then stops, refusing to budge further. It does NOT drop the hammer unless I pull the trigger. I tested this at the range and working the decocker to the halfway position THEN pulling the trigger allows the decocker to function normally. Nevertheless, I'm not going to trust it, for the fact that this pistol's close relative, the PA-63, can sometimes discharge when the decocker is used. Apparently, the metal pieces that stop the hammer from making contact with the firing pin can become "peened" and mushroomed back to the point where the hammer WILL make contact with the firing pin, and cause the gun to fire if there is a round in the chamber. So, if you own EITHER gun, always aim downrange before using the decocker, or carefully drop the hammer while aiming the gun downrange. If you can't do this, while keeping the gun aimed downrange, drop the mag and EJECT THE ROUND before using the decocker.

FAIL: The Great Russian Watch Experiment.

This is an update of the post about the Vostok Amphibia watch I ordered earlier. But, let me begin at the beginning.

I was generally happy with the watch at first. So much so that I got another one. A beautiful Vostok Troika, from the same seller on eBay. On the second day I had that watch, I was working outside on a hot, humid day. I looked down to notice that there was condensation on the inside of the watch. I sent it back to the seller, who replaced it.

But, when I got the new one back, it too became fogged with condensation, again on a hot day. Not only that, one day I got it wet and there were visible water droplets on the inside of the watch.

Keep in mind that this watch was supposed to be water resistant to 200 meters. I think a dunking of a few inches would spell doom for this watch.

In the meantime, the original Vostok Amphibia stopped working. It would only run for a few minutes then stop. In fact, it made me late for an appointment at work!

I'm sure that the seller on eBay would service the watch if I sent it back, but at $15 a pop to send it, I think there are better ways to spend my money.

The Chinese Slava knockoff is still working perfectly, by the way. Got that one for under $20, keeps great time, and has never missed a beat.

Lately, I've seen the same watch selling for under $15, with shipping. THAT'S irony.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Another new "Russian" watch--Slava "CJIABA" Constellation Review

СЛАВА СОЗВЕЗДИЕ (Slava "Constellation") 194B

Found this one on eBay and couldn't pass it up. Interesting story behind this one, though.

СЛАВА (or Slava, as they say in Russia) has been a manufacturer of Russian watches for decades. Whereas the Vostok watches were created mostly for the military, Slava has been known for making affordable civilian watches. I wasn't counting on it being this affordable, however...from eBay, I paid $9 for the watch, and $9 for shipping. Total price was less that $20.

I was a little worried about that, but I pulled the trigger anyway. Turns out, the Slava seems to be a nicely put together watch. And, the biggest surprise is, it keeps time better than my Vostok. Plus, it looks like a number of more expensive divers' watches. Since I got it, I've seen several watches on the Internet that the Slava obviously copies. It looks much like this Golana Aqua Pro except for the red section on the bezel. The Swiss Golana sells for over $200, and I don't think anyone who gave the Slava a close look would be fooled, but it looks pretty good nonetheless.

As I dug deeper, I found some interesting facts on the Slava. Somehow, a company in China managed to get the rights to use the Slava name. Now, it seems that they don't have the rights to the distinctive Slava logo found on some of the original Russian brands. But, they do try to play up the Russian angle by making some of the print on the watch face in Russian. Of course, Slava is spelled "СЛАВА", Constellation is spelled "СОЗВЕЗДИЕ". And, although "Automatic" is in English, the word Jewels is spelled "КАМНЯ" and Russia is spelled "РОССИЯ". Notice it does not say, "Made in Russia", it just says Russia. That's because the Slava Constellation models are actually made in China with Chinese parts.

So, it's not a "real" Slava, but, it seems to be a decent watch nonetheless. And for less than $20, if it lasts a year, I will consider that I got my money's worth.

UPDATE: 11/2011 - The Slava keeps on ticking. Still looks good, although the silver plating has completely worn off the crown. Accurate and reliable. Who would have guessed?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two weeks with the Vostok

Today is exactly two weeks since I got the Vostok. I'm still pretty happy with it. It looks great and it runs reliably without winding. It still runs a little fast, but I adjust it back every few days, so it isn't a problem. I've been reading and many say that they tend to run fast and that you should wait for at least a month to assume full accuracy. If it is not as accurate as you want it, there is a lever on the inside with a +/- indicator. It is a simple matter of moving the lever slightly, then testing. You have to have a watch wrench to do it. I don't have one yet, but they're available on eBay for around $8-9, shipped. Of course, you can take it to a watch repair service, but most have said the cost of this adjustment is more than the watch. If it doesn't correct after another couple of weeks, I might be placing an order and tearing into it myself.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Watch, straight from Moscow.

Vostok has been making watches for the Russian military for a number of years. In fact, it is possible to find Vostoks marked "Made in the USSR" (CCCP) on eBay if you keep a good lookout. I wanted a new one, so I poked around until I found this one, sold by an eBay seller called Zenitar, who also sells Russian made camera equipment of the same name.

This watch is called the Vostok Amphibian. It is a 31 jewel, fully automatic movement mechanical watch. In other words, an internal pendulum winds the watch using only the movement of your body. I've had this watch running over 96 hours so far on one winding, and that includes at least 8 hours per night of sitting on the nightstand not moving.

I'd always heard about jewels being used in watches, but never understood what the advantage was. Turns out, they are used as bearings and friction points, and the more jewels you have, the less metal-to-metal friction is present, which could eventually cause the watch to become inaccurate.

The best part is, lower end Vostoks are not super expensive. Some of the fancier models can go for several hundred dollars, but the Amphibian pictured here sold for $49, with $15 air mail shipping directly from Moscow.

It takes a long time to get something from Moscow to the United States. I waited about 18 days before the watch arrived at my door. It is supposed to be water resistant to 200 meters and it seems rather ruggedly built. In fact, a friend of mine remarked that it seemed like you could use it for self defense in an emergency...just smack someone with the back of your wrist, and let the mass of the Vostok do the rest.

It does have some slightly rough edges, but nothing that is obvious nor troublesome. All in all, it is a handsome watch that's completely functional. Accuracy is not what you would expect from a modern quartz watch, but it's still pretty good. It should get better as the watch becomes broken in. So far, it seems to gain about 5-10 seconds or so per day, which means that in a week, it will be about a minute or so "off". It is not a big deal to set it once a week, however, and it's more than accurate enough to get me to work on time.

It also has a calendar window, and luminescent hands and face marks. The numbers look like they would be luminescent, but they are not. A shame, because that would make this thing really easy to read in the dark.

Nevertheless, for around $65 shipped, this is a pretty cool thing to have. I've shown it to several people I know, and a couple of them are now thinking about getting Vostoks for themselves.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Android on the Nokia 770

Don't waste your time. It boots, and it looks pretty, but as of right now, there was no wireless support that I could find, and no way to get an on-screen keyboard. It is really disappointing that Nokia basically abandons the people who went out on a limb to buy their fledgling technology. Now, we're left with less than perfect solutions to try to keep our Internet Tablets up-to-date.

I'm glad the community gives us the option of running OS2007 and OS2008. Too bad Nokia doesn't make a polished version of these operating systems to run smoothly on the 770.

Of course, all Nokia is concerned with is the bottom line, not building a customer base. As long as they can continue to push customers toward the 8XX series tablets, they think they'll keep selling them.

Truth is, I don't plan to buy another one. "Fool me once..." still applies. If I have a product that becomes obsolete because it is too slow or too limited due to more advanced designs coming to market, that's one thing. But, if "planned obsolescence" is the only reason for upgrading, then forget it.

Although it's not exactly the same type of unit, I have since gotten an Acer netbook. Much greater possibilities for upgrading that than the 770, and I'll be buying another one if this one either wears out or is no longer powerful enough to run decent software. I think it is more usable than the Internet Tablets anyway, at almost the same price as what I paid new for my 770.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tinkering with Plantar Fasciitis.

This might not fall under the category of tinkering, but that's exactly what I've done for the past two years, trying to get my feet to "work right".

I'm not going to go into what plantar fasciitis is. If you've heard of it, that's probably because you have it. Otherwise, if your feet burn with pain when they hit the floor first thing in the morning, you probably have it. If your feet seem to "tighten up" when you sit still for more than a few minutes, you probably are a PF sufferer. There are a million resources out there that will tell you what it is, and a million more that will tell you how to cure it. People get varying results with different methods of treatment. I didn't have success with any of them. Here's what I tried:

Cortisone shots to the heel - Just as painful as it sounds. Helped for a few days, but eventually, these actually made it worse in the long term...I've read you aren't supposed to have more than three of these over the course of a year, as it can cause fat tissue damage. I had two in two months, and my PF became worse than ever. I didn't visit the podiatrist after that.

Insoles - I used Powerstep Pinnacle insoles. They helped a lot, but I didn't get the full relief that many report. I still use the insoles in all of my shoes.

Night Splint - This thing was big, heavy, and hard to put on. It almost entirely prevented sleep, and was too expensive to get one for each foot. I even combined this with crutches to entirely rest a foot for nearly four weeks, with no results. Talk about a waste of time!

Heel Cups - These did help for a while. I got them before a weekend where I had to be on my feet for a long period of time. Even after that weekend, I started walking in them and my feet felt great. But, as time wore on, the relief wore off. Pretty soon, my feet were back to normal...i.e., painful.

Taping - Taping helped transfer the stress from my heel to my Achilles tendon. Therefore, after a while, my Achilles tendon started to hurt, too. Less aggressive taping helped alleviate it somewhat, but it also reduced the amount of relief.

Ibuprofen Cream - Helped for an hour. Couldn't stop every hour at work to reapply, and probably wouldn't be good for me if I did.

Ibuprofen Tablets - Helped, but pretty soon, I began having sleepless nights and symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome. Stopping the oral Ibuprofen cured that, but left me with sore feet again.

Icing - I read that the best way to apply ice was to freeze a water bottle and roll that under your feet, pressing hard to stretch the plantar fascia. Helped while doing it, and helped for a little while afterward. But soon, the pain returned as always.

Finally, I talked to a friend of mine at work. He had PF and had been taking a strong anti-inflammatory called Diclofenac (Voltaren) for some time with great success. About that same time, I saw an article about a fellow who wrapped duct tape fairly tightly around the middle of his foot, and he claimed that it cured his PF.

Well, duct tape wasn't adjustable once you applied it, and it tended to leave a residue on my socks. So, I took a pair of elastic velcro straps from yet another set of night splints and wrapped them around my feet as shown in the picture.

And, I asked my doctor to prescribe Diclofenac. Once I was doing both, the pain of my PF greatly diminshed. It is now to the point where I don't even notice it most of the time.

I'm up to walking a mile a day now without trouble. I'm also starting to lose weight, which helps too.

Keep in mind, I'm not cured yet. If I stop the Diclofenac, or the wrapping, or both, my pain increases. I know I have to keep doing this, but I don't mind, because at least I can do SOMETHING. And hopefully, continued weight loss will make a long term difference.

If you have PF you've tried everything, I suggest you give both of these techniques a try. I don't know where you could get the elastic straps, but in a pinch, an Ace bandage wrapped several times would probably do the trick.

Let me know if this works for you.

EDIT: I got a new pair of shoes, which I wore without the Powerstep Pinnacle insoles in them. Guess what? My heel pain returned. So, it seems that the insoles contribute to the relief as well. Time to order a new pair.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cheap, quick, homemade backpacking stove.

I had been reading for some time about various backpacking stove designs. Some were based on pop cans, tuna cans, cat food cans, etc. I made my own design out of an empty chafing dish warmer (75 cents at the local dollar store). While it may not be the most efficient, compact, or sleek design, it is fairly lightweight and durable, is more than hot enough to fry meat and boil water, and can be made in less than 5 minutes.

I punctured a row of 8 holes 3/4" down from the top, and another row, staggered, 1" from the top, with the smallest precision screwdriver that I have in my toolbox. After trying rubbing alcohol and acetone, I quit messing around and finally got real denatured alcohol, which burns MUCH better. The small holes make for more of a jet effect, too. The upper holes do most of the heating, while the lower holes keep the sides of the container hot, which vaporizes the alcohol inside and forces it out of the jets to keep the cycle going.

First, though, you have to prime the stove by lighting it with the cap off and letting it burn that way for about a minute, or until the alcohol inside boils. Once you hear it hissing, drop the cap on and run a match around the outside holes. No wicking inside, as this seemed to decrease the reliability of the stove. I just pour denatured alcohol into the bottom of the container. A small amount (about half of a normal sized shot glass) burns for about 6-7 minutes.

The heat is even and reliable. It boils water with a couple ounces of fuel, and with the right sized pots and pans, you can easily cook on this stove.

EDIT: I made a new version of this stove. I only made four lower jets (I call them "priming jets", because they keep the sides of the can hot so that the alcohol vaporizes). Also, I moved the "cooking jets" closer to the top. The tips of the flames just make contact with the bottom of the pan. This works MUCH more efficiently. With a lidded pot, it will boil about 2 cups of water in 4-5 minutes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It has been a while since I posted...

Sorry. I'm going to try to start keeping up with this thing again. Here's a new post to get that started...