August 2003

Buck (Mark) Fever


My friendly neighborhood gun dealer has been completely unable to track down the Browning Buck Mark Classic Plus that I want to buy. All of his distributors are out of stock, and while they promise to have some Real Soon Now, they can’t say exactly when.

There are probably thousands in stock elsewhere in California, but the law is designed to make it tedious and difficult for me to buy one of them. Not because I might use it for crime, mind you; just wanting one is sufficient offense.

Most likely, I’ll end up driving 100 miles to a store that has one, make the purchase, and then drive there again ten days later to pick it up. Cheaper than having it shipped to my local dealer, paying him for the transfer, and letting it sit at his place for the ten days.

Of course, if I were interested in crime, I could have it today, or something much more lethal. California’s gun laws have no impact on the black market, because they’re not designed to.

More on NAV


Just got back from another long trip in my self-navigating Lexus (to Bellingham, WA and back; sadly, I didn’t think about setting up a photo shoot with Lauren along the way until I was already halfway home).

I was surprised that the Hotel Bellwether wasn’t in the car’s database, until I learned that the place hadn’t existed until August 2000. Lexus gives out free update discs (when they’re in stock), so this is a problem I can correct sometime soon.

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PDF bullseye target generator


Spent two days this week at an Operations forum up north, and since most of the sessions had very little to do with the service I operate, I was able to do some real work while casually keeping track of the discussions.

My online target archive contains a bunch of bullseye targets I built using a Perl script. The native output format was PostScript, ’cause I like PostScript, but PDF is generally more useful today, and not everyone uses 8.5×11 paper. I hand-converted some of them, but never finished the job.

The correct solution was to completely rewrite the code using the PDF::API2::Lite Perl module, and generalize it for different paper sizes and multiple targets per page. It’s still a work in progress, but already pretty useful.

The Perl Script From Hell


I’ve been working with Perl since about two weeks before version 2.0 was released. Over those fifteen years, I’ve seen a lot of hairy Perl scripts, many of them mine.

None of them can compare to the monster that lurks in the depths of our service, though. Over 8,000 lines of Perl plus an 8,000-line C++ module, written in a style that’s allegedly Object Oriented, but which I would describe as Obscenely Obfuscated (“Hi, Andrew!”).

We have five large servers devoted to running it. Each contributes three CPUs, three gigabytes of memory, and 25 hours of runtime to the task (independently; we need the redundancy if one of them crashes). Five years ago, I swore a mighty oath to never, ever get involved with the damned thing.

Then it broke. In a way that involved tens of thousands of unhappy customers.

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Life’s little pleasures


After taking a week off to drive to Washington and back, I resumed my quest for a Browning Buck Mark Classic Plus. As I suspected, the only store who had one was 100 miles away, and thanks to California’s silly-ass gun laws, I have to make the trip twice, once to fill out the federal and state paperwork and supply a thumbprint, and again ten days later to claim my property.

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A lifetime supply


Just finished adjusting the trigger on my Remington 700. It now has a crisp 2.5-pound trigger pull, a vast improvement over the creepy 6-pounder it came with. It’s an easy, safe procedure, but the final step involved something I don’t keep around the house: nail polish.

After a leisurely walk to the grocery store in the middle of the night, I am the proud owner of a half-ounce bottle of Maybelline Infinite Shine Clear Extended Wear Base And Topcoat. Sealing the threads on the trigger-adjustment screws required approximately a third of a drop of the stuff, suggesting that I have enough left over to fix about a thousand rifles. Which is about a thousand more than I own.

I suppose I could always use the rest to seal the quick-and-dirty paint job I do for my D&D miniatures (prime gray, paint black, drybrush metallic, done!).

A perfectly reasonable panic


Once every three months, we sent the whole company home while we tore the computer room apart and did all sorts of maintenance work. During my first quarterly downtime, the top item on my list was installing a new BOSS controller into the Solbourne that was our primary Oracle database server. Like any good database, it needed an occasional disk infusion to keep it happy, and there was no room on the existing SCSI controllers.

So I had a disk tray, a bunch of shiny new disks, a controller card, and media to upgrade the OS with. The BOSS was only supported in the latest version, and this being the server that kept the books, it was upgraded only when necessary.

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“Almost fair and balanced”


I was all set to participate in Fair and Balanced Day, until I reached the site that’s collecting contributions and saw this:

before you know it, the entire left side of the blog world is gonna be fair & balanced

Since I’m no more a leftist than I am a right-winger, I immediately lost all enthusiasm for the game. Sorry, kids, but you don’t have to be on the Left to poke fun at an obviously frivolous lawsuit, even if it happens to be coming from the Right.

Post-Coulter Bliss


I just spent two hours reading articles by Ann Coulter. It’s an odd experience. On the one hand, she flames like a veteran Usenetter cherry-picking her facts, which is always fun to read, and she has excellent taste in enemies. On the other hand, she has a screw loose.

No, that understates it; she has a lot of screws loose.

For a long time, I was convinced that she was outrageous for the same reason anyone in the entertainment business is: it sells. After a concentrated dose of the stuff, though, I think she’s dead serious. About everything. Disturbing, that.

The worst part was realizing, round about the twelfth rant, that I was starting to understand her thought processes. Must shower now.

Interior decorating


I’m not in the market for a mail-order bride, but if I were, this is the gal for me. I took two years of German around the time she was born; we could work through the language barrier.

An accidental “arsenal”


Every once in a while, after some poor schmuck has been arrested (maybe for a good reason, maybe not), some official will announce breathlessly that a search of his home turned up “thousands of rounds of ammunition.” This sounds impressive, until you realize that a box of 500 rounds of .22 Long Rifle — by far the most popular ammo in the country — is about the size and weight of a brick, and costs less than $25.

A few days ago, anticipating the release of my new Buck Mark, I picked up a brick of .22 so I’d have something to feed it. Tonight, I went through some boxes that had remained sealed through my last two moves. Imagine my surprise when I found four bricks inside. I think two of them were an impulse buy at a 24-hour grocery in Ohio, which makes them at least ten years old.

Obviously I’ll need to invite some friends along when I go to the range.

Generating random colors


My web color scheme generator is currently set up to reflect my own biases. The results are almost always readable, even for people with various forms of color-blindness, but who’s to say that my way is best?

Well, me, of course, but once or twice a year I’m willing to admit that I might be wrong about something. In recognition of that possibility, I’ll explain the syntax for the mini-language I created for the generator.

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Clues for the candidates, part 1


While browsing the list of potential California governors, I decided to take a quick peek at their web sites, and since they’re in alphabetical order, one of the first ones I hit was Brooke Adams.

Summary: she’s young, pretty, not a socialist, not a member of the Religious Right, and seems to grasp the major tax-and-spend problems in California. If she weren’t clueless on the subject of gun control, I’d be willing to back her.

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slash-be-gone


Finally figured out why
tags in my comments were still showing up as
, even though I’d fixed MT/Util.pm. Turns out the Sanitize routine was quietly correcting my “mistake”.

pictures on munitions.com


This is a placeholder for comments from people viewing my photo archives. Now that I’ve got everything back online, I’m curious what people think of it.

If it saves just one life…


Earlier, I mentioned that the common claims about a kids-and-guns “crisis” are largely based on baldfaced lies, particularly when they talk about small children finding a gun and shooting themselves or a playmate. California activists used this myth to pass safe-storage laws mandating trigger locks, lock-boxes, gun safes, safety testing for buyers, and safety testing for all handguns sold in the state, and every year they ask for more.

Unfortunately, the number of children aged 0-14 who died in gun accidents in California in 1999 was… one (source: National Center for Health Statistics; total gun-accident deaths were 47). Note that this is the same year that all those “safety” laws were passed, which gun-control advocates promised would protect children.

Protect them from what, exactly?

Finally!


Ever since DVDs were introduced, I’ve made a point of checking every few months to see if they’d gotten around to releasing Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Tonight I discovered that it came out last month.

Sadly, it only seems to be available in pan-and-scan, not widescreen. Beats hell out of my old VHS copy, though.

Since this was also the day that the state of California permitted me to take my new Browning Buck Mark pistol home, today officially qualifies as A Good Day.

I’m horribly rusty with a pistol, though; at twenty-five yards I couldn’t get twenty shots into a group smaller than four inches. With a .22, no less. Blech.

Who stole what?


You know, I’d be more receptive to claims that a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy™ somehow Stole The Election™ if there weren’t so much obvious whining by unpopular politicians like Gray Davis.

"The Republicans behind the recall say they want you to vote me out because of past mistakes."

…and many moderates and Democrats agree, Gray; how do you think they got all those signatures on the recall petition?

Personally, I’m more concerned about his present and future mistakes. Right now he’s running around like a headless chicken, making hollow promises and signing any bill that might keep him in office, no matter how much he’s opposed it in the past.

Wasn’t it the Republicans who were supposed to be willing to do anything to stay in power?

Update: now it’s claimed that 58% of the possible voters favor the recall. No doubt Davis thinks this is evidence that the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy™ altered the numbers to hide his well-known popularity.

sauce for the goose…


I knew they were shameless, but it’s nice to see the proof. PETA, who adores violent crime and vandalism when it furthers their goals, runs squealing to the cops when someone uses the same tactics against them.

I think those tactics are always wrong, but if you choose to use them yourself, you should expect them in return.

More from the iTunes Music Store


The only thing that keeps me from spending even more money than I already have at iTMS is the limited selection. Broad but not deep, that is. Some recent artists that I like aren’t listed at all, while some old favorites have just a fraction of their catalog online. And then there are the ones who were never on a major label, or who have renounced their sinful past (warning: the Flash in this site ground my browser into the dust).

Anyway, here’s what I’ve bought recently.

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MTEntryCategoryLink


I was extremely surprised not to find this in MT’s built-in tags. MTEntryCategory exists, to tell you what the name of a blog entry’s primary category is, but there was no function to provide a link to the matching category archive page.

Well, now there is.

“Gee, what are you going to do with these?”


One of my pet peeves is the store clerk who examines your purchases and tries to figure out how they’re related to each other. There’s one at the local Borders who’s done this to me twice recently, first when I bought a pair of O’Reilly books with Schneier’s Practical Cryptography, and again when I went in looking for the new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style and ended up grabbing a new dictionary/thesaurus and a bunch of gun magazines. I keep picturing him working at a grocery store:

"Cool-whip, bananas, and toilet paper? Big plans for tonight, eh?"

I understand that he’s trying to be friendly and start conversations with the customers, which is certainly not the worst behavior I’ve experienced in a bookstore, but if I wanted to chat about the books I was buying, I’d have said something first. Take my money, give me my change, and let me get the hell out of your store, okay?

Maybe it’s part of the transformation of bookstores into social hangouts, aided and abetted by built-in coffee shops and comfy chairs. Fine in their place, but I think they change people’s behavior in all parts of the store. A ten-minute conversation by the magazine rack that can be heard clearly from more than twenty feet away? A business call on your cell-phone that a dozen people are forced to listen to if they want to keep shopping?

Mother taught me a word for this sort of behavior: rude.

She did not consider it a compliment.

“If I could get in there…”


While watching yet another Slashdot thread dissolve into a poor imitation of a Usenet flame-war, the smug arrogance of people who think that running Linux means they’re smarter than Windows users reminded me of something that happened when I was at Synopsys.

A widely-used Unix server had crashed, and the engineers were hanging out near the data center, waiting for us to bring it back up.

“What’s taking them so long? We’ve got work to do! Dammit, if I could get in there, I’d fix it myself!”

“I’m pretty sure that’s why you can’t get in there.”

Zapper Stinger Moderator Velocitor Thunderbolt Yellow Jacket


Is it just me, or are the people marketing .22LR ammo getting a little silly in their product names?

[and yes, I know some of these have been around for a while, but it was seeing them neatly lined up in a row that got to me]

Vacation’s End


Brian Tiemann went on a computer-free vacation right before the latest virus hit, and came home to more than 21,000 pieces of email. This has somewhat reduced his affection for Microsoft.

My first thought was to reply to his article via email, but fortunately I came to my senses.

Platinum is out


Got three pieces of mail today.

  1. offer for a Platinum Visa card from Fleet,
  2. letter from MBNA upgrading my existing Platinum Visa card to the new Quantum Visa,
  3. offer for CitiBank's new Diamond Preferred MasterCard.

I kinda felt sorry for the guys at Fleet. “You’re still selling Platinum?!? Got any eight-track tapes to go with that?”

Could be worse, I suppose. Last year they replaced all my credit cards with new ones that had American flags on them. I think they were trying to tell me that I had money to burn.

Boyfriend syndrome


It’s a familiar sight for anyone who shoots at a public pistol range: a man and a woman come in together so he can teach her to shoot, and he gives her a loud, hard-kicking gun and incompetent instruction. Usually he’s a terrible shot himself, and sometimes he’s a danger to himself and others. His real goal, conscious or not, is to convince her that guns are a “guy thing,” and she should let him be her protector and champion.

I got tired of watching this a long time ago, and usually I try to sneak in when he’s left the room and give her a few quick pointers, including the all-important “rent a .22 next time.” When he comes back and she’s shooting better than he is with his favorite gun, the session usually comes to a quick halt.

Today was a bit different.

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Robert Green Ingersoll


Goodness he talks purty. I must remember to look up his writings to see what else he had to say.

Copied from the always-useful James Randi:

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“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”