New Star Wars Trailer

April 16th, 2015

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So, we have an actual trailer for the Force Awakens.  It looks like JJ Abrams has the feel of the original trilogy figured out.

I'm not even going to warn you that there are spoilers ahead.  Well, I guess I just did.  With my obligation thus fulfilled, let's get to it.

destroyer_desert

That's a Star Destroyer crashed in the desert, with a dead X-Wing in the foreground.  Notice the rounded turbines:  that's an old-school model, not one of the new ones.  The battle must have taken place during the original trilogy.

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Kylo Ren, the new bad guy.  The mask reminds me of Darth Revan, from the one good Star Wars video game.  His lightsaber looks downright dangerous.

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I think that's Leia receiving the lightsaber.  Notice the resemblance to Luke Skywalker's first lightsaber, which he lost in the Empire Strikes Back.  The person handing it over appears to be an alien.

Who ends up with it?  Finn.  Apparently, the stormtrooper gig wasn't working out too well for him.  I expected Daisy Ridley's character to be the one, since she's supposed to be Han and Leia's daughter.

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Speaking of Luke, I think that's him.  Who else has a mechanical right hand and hangs out with R2D2?

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New stormtroopers.  The Nazi parallels in this scene are hard to miss.  The Empire is gone, and they appear to be serving something called the First Order (the good guys are apparently the Resistance).

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Check out this dapper guy.  It looks like they've switched to a more practical rifle than the old converted Sterlings.

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The Millennium Falcon being chased by a couple of TIE fighters.  They're actually flying into the fuselage of the dead Star Destroyer.  In case there's any doubt about the pilots, the final shot clears it up.

han_chewie

Shut up.  I've just got something in my eye.  From chopping onions.  Also, allergies.

Ah, screw it.  "Chewie, we're home" is all I needed to hear.

The Hugo Mess

April 5th, 2015

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Science fiction is often political.  Heinlein's middle period is praised by libertarian thinkers, Star Trek promoted progressive mores and social justice, and Ursula Le Guin's work sparked debates about gender roles.  This is to be expected in a genre that often looks to the future for hope or cautionary tales.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the awards pageants are also marred by politics.  It really shouldn't.  Yet some people are crying foul because Larry Correia and and Brad Torgersen managed to dominate the nomination process for the Hugo awards.

They didn't cheat.  They simply worked the system within its own rules.

What's more, I really don't care.

What does concern me is that the Hugos are a sham in the first place.  We had some spectacular, thoughtful, and moving fiction last year.  Almost none of it got nominated (Anne Leckie's Ancillary Sword being the exception).

The Kevin J. Anderson book is a generic space-opera mess that reads like it was phoned in.  Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books are pulpy fun, but they're second-tier work at best.

Claire North wrote a spectacular novel about a cabal of serial immortals that deserves to be a classic by any reckoning.  Any nomination?  Nope.  Felix Gilman's Revolutions continues to showcase a vivid imagination and excellent prose.  It was ignored.  Eric Lundgren's hilarious and surreal Facades?  No love.  Max Barry's Lexicon?  Christopher Priest's The Adjacent?  Zip.  Nada.

So, yeah.  Screw the Hugos.  They're no better than the Grammys at rewarding merit.  I'm grateful the internet has given us innumerable other channels to find the good stuff.

(Incidentally, Larry Correia's new Monster Hunter International book has been out for a bit.  Somehow, I missed the release, but I'm tearing through it now.  The MHI books aren't high literature, but they are incredible, giddy, gruesome fun.)

Shaheen Allen Pardoned

April 2nd, 2015

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Shaheen Allen made the mistake of driving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey with a firearm in her car.  She was arrested, charged, and convicted of a felony under New Jersey's Graves Act.  Initially, she was to face a mandatory 42 months in prison.  Public outcry led prosecutors to allow her entry into a diversionary program in lieu of prison time, but she remained a convicted criminal.

Governor Christie has now pardoned her.  His statement is here.  Happy ending, right?

Tell that to Steffon Losey-Davis, who has yet to receive the governor's beneficence, or to any other victims of New Jersey's gun laws.

There is nothing in Christie's pardon, or in any public statement he's made to date, to indicate that he finds the Graves Act unfair or unconstitutional.  I won't hold my breath waiting, either.  He ran for office in 1995 in support of New Jersey's "assault weapons" ban.

So, why the change in heart with Ms. Allen?  The answer is as simple as it is reprehensible:  politics.  He needs to win over conservatives if he's to run for President, and that means making  a show of support for gun rights.

I'm relieved and grateful for Ms. Allen's pardon, but I won't be trusting Christie on 2nd Amendment issues.

B. Todd Jones Resigns

March 20th, 2015

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B. Todd Jones has announced his resignation as director of the ATF, with only 11 days' notice.  I don't know if it has anything to do with the backlash from his plan to reclassify M855 ammunition as "armor piercing," but the coincidence is hard to miss.  When he spoke to the Senate Appropriations committee last week, he had the look of a man who'd found himself dumped in the deep end of the pool.

To be honest, you couldn't pay me to do his job.  Anyone taking the position inherits a plethora of troubles from an agency dogged by scandal.

Continued »

More Desperation

March 18th, 2015

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States United to Prevent Gun Violence is running a couple of surreal campaigns to push gun control.  The first is this little chestnut:

Never mind that it's illegal to run a gun shop in New York without all sorts of licensing, or that it's illegal for customers to even handle one without a purchase permit.  Since they're gun control advocates, they can probably get away with the David Gregory defense.

They've also scored rapper Snoop Dogg, who is quite the paragon of civic virtue, to promote a separate campaign.

For an organization swimming in the Joyce Foundation's cash, they're certainly stooping quite low.

Continued »

ATF Holding Off on the M855 Ban. For Now.

March 10th, 2015

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From their website:

Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen, [yeah, sure…] the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study. Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework.

Well, it's nice to see my pessimism belayed a bit.  This isn't over, though.  Keep pressure up on your legislators.

The Obama Socialist Executive Ban on 5.56 Ammunition

March 8th, 2015

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That title is a decent approximation of how inaccurately the current situation has been described to me.  It's 95% untrue.  The proposal at hand is not the result of legislation.  There is no executive order on the matter.  It is not a blanket ban on 5.56.  It only affects one specific loading.

Here's the short explanation.  The 1985 Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (LEOPA) delegated authority to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to decide whether certain ammunition could be banned from civilian ownership if it is deemed "armor piercing."  The criteria are quite specific:

A projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or 

A full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.

Military M855/SS109 ammunition has long been exempted from that definition by name.  Last month, the ATF decided to change their minds on the matter.  Their report is here [pdf].

The first problem is, they're wrong.  The second problem is, it won't stop them.

Continued »

More Fun with Roman History

February 14th, 2015

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Picking up from yesterday, we're left with vastly differing accounts of the emperor Numerian's death.  Which is correct?  The easiest way to solve this is to run down a simple timeline.

Malalas' Chronographia makes the following claims:

  • Saint Babylas (then patriarch of Antioch) refused to admit an emperor to the church
  • the emperor executed Babylas
  • the emperor went to war with the Persians
  • said emperor was captured following a siege at Carrhae

It becomes apparent he's referencing three distinct emperors, all of whom predate Numerian by a generation.

Continued »

Fun with Roman History

February 13th, 2015

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I recently got around to reading Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire.  It's an excellent read for the layman, and he poses some interesting debates for the historian.  One interesting theory he suggests is that the Huns had an indirect (and earlier than usually assumed) effect on Rome as their migrations forced the Goths to rush the borders and clash with the Empire.

But my area of study is the 3rd Century crisis, and that's why I noticed an odd and unorthodox account of Numerian's death.

Everyone remembers the famous emperor Numerian, right?  He's right up there with…well, don't feel badly.  They don't teach much about the 3rd century in school because it was such a mess.  Rome's borders were crumbling under the weight of Germanic invasions, and the empire was in a state of nearly constant civil war.  Dio (as in Cassius, not Ronnie James) remarked that Rome had descended "from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust."

From the death of Alexander Severus in 235 to the coronation of Diocletian in 284, there were 26 confirmed emperors and over 50 usurpers (Gallienus succeeded in winning exactly one thing in life–he had as many as thirty).  Approval by the Senate was an afterthought–the armies were the kingmakers for the empire, and their favorite generals were the only men deemed fit to rule.

Continued »

Piling On

February 9th, 2015

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OK, I'll join in on the Brian Williams meme train.  Here he is reporting from Dallas on November 24, 1963.

You Only Get One Chance At This

January 13th, 2015

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A police officer in Glasgow, Kentucky is suing Barren Outdoors.  The employee handed him a loaded gun, which he failed to check, and he blew off part of his left index finger.

Go ahead and laugh:  he's going to win.

Note to gun store customers:  putting your hand over the muzzle won't stop a bullet and it doesn't exempt you from Rule #2.  Don't point the weapon at anything you can't pay for.  Nobody wants to hear, "it's unloaded."  I've lost count of how many times that phrase has turned out to be a lie.

Note to gun store employees:  clear the gun before handing it to a customer because the customer won't check it.  Seriously, 87.4% just of them just start dry-firing away with wild abandon as soon as they've got their sweaty mitts on it.

Note to gun store owners:  you can and will be sued for this.  Comparative negligence might mitigate the damages, but you're going to have some of the liability.  You can quote Rule #1 to a jury until you're blue in the face.  It won't help.  It's not normal practice to hand someone a loaded gun.

There were many mistakes in this situation, but the chain of events began with the employee failing to take his responsibilities seriously.  It just takes one lapse.

Sigelei 100W Plus

January 4th, 2015

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Vaporizers have come a long way over the last five years. In fact, they've seen a vast improvement over the last few months alone. A year ago, most power-regulated devices topped out at 11 watts or so, and they wouldn't fire atomizers with a resistance of less than 1Ω.

The alternative were so-called mechanical mods, which used no circuitry and drew power directly from the battery. I could build lower-resistance coils to cheat more output, but the quality (and quantity) of vapor tapered off as the battery wore down over the day.

Better chips have since been developed over the last few months. Several manufacturers began using the Evolv DNA30 and DNA40 chips early last year, and now companies like Sigelei are using the newer Yihi sx330 chip to generate higher output.

Sigelei 100W Plus

Yes, this thing can go up to 100 watts. No, I haven't run it that high. In fact, anything over 40 watts gets pretty overwhelming. But that's not the point.

Continued »

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