Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book: Butterflies in my Stomach

Butterflies in my Stomach, Ronald L. Taylor.

About the human consumption of insects, direct and indirect.

It also addresses our irrational food prejudices, e.g., most westerners are repelled by the idea of eating bee larvae, yet relish bee vomit (honey).

I can't really recommend slogging through most of the book but there were some interesting tidbits. Here's a six-sentence synopsis:

Humans, especially vegetarians, consume quite a lot of bugs without being fully aware of it. For example, the FDA permits up to 20 maggots per 100 grams of canned mushrooms, and ten insects plus 35 insect eggs per 8 ounces of raisins.

The most promising insects for use as food are termites, bee larvae and pupae, beetle grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, and almost any freshwater aquatic insects.

The legs, wings and heads may be pulled off. Roasting is the easiest way to cook them. They can be powdered and mixed with water or other foods if that's the only way you can keep them down.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moving a Big Rock: Exercise and a Primal Sense of Accomplishment

This rock has been an annoying hazard off the end of our dock since we bought this house. I mentioned it to a friend, and he loaned me an amazing machine called a "Tirfor Grip Hoist". It amounts to a super-heavy-duty-come-along. Bought a nylon tow strap made for tanks from a surplus store, strapped the Grip Hoist to a big oak tree, wrapped logging chains around the rock, and moved it a couple hundred feet, half an inch at a time. From where it's been since the last ice age to where it'll be until the next one. Took all day and was the kind of workout yuppies in California pay a lot of money for.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Relief from Stings

Took the dog for a hike this morning. He ran ahead and started barking and growling at something. I thought he might have had a bear treed. When I caught up to him, he charged whatever it was, and "it" turned out to be a hornet nest. He skeddadled all the way back to the truck with his tail between his legs. They chased me for probably close to a hundred yards. I stopped a couple times and they were still buzzing around me. When I got back to the truck a bit later, the dog was running in circles because there were still two live hornets attached to his butt by their stingers. 

I had enough stings to test a couple home remedies.

Some were left alone, and they're still burning, swollen and itching. (Especially one inside my ear and one in my armpit.) 

Some were covered with a paste made from baking soda and water. It had no discernible effect.

Ditto with meat tenderizer. 

But: I cracked open eggs and put the membrane you find under the shell on others, and it made an amazing difference. The swelling went right down, and they they're no longer bothering me at all. I don't know if the proteins from the eggs do something to the venom or what, but it's an old wives tale that really works. Just peel pieces of that opaque membrane from the inside of an egg's shell, put them on stings, and let them dry. Remember this one, you'll need it sooner or later.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giant Thermos Thingie

I don't know what these things are called, but they bring back vaguely disturbing memories of military chow lines.

This is my latest score from the scrap-metal pile at the dump. All it needed was a new O-ring.

Five gallons of hot cocoa will make it a popular destination at Ridin' Shootin' Rootin' Tootin' Rudy's Cub Scout camp-out next month.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Government Commission on EMP

Just waded through the:
"Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack 

Critical National Infrastructures 

April, 2008"

To save you several hours of yawning, here it is condensed to one paragraph: 

We're vulnerable to "the electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion". "When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation". The result would be "electricity, telecommunications, and electronics ... out of service over a significant area for an extended period of time", "months to a year or more". "Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems." Everything from banking and communications to the production and distribution of food, water and fuel might be catastrophically impacted. 

The report also made reference to the possibility of “vigilante redistribution” of "consumer goods and luxuries". I'm not fluent in PC, so I had to read that a couple times to grasp it. "When the failure of police and emergency services becomes protracted, the lawless element of society may emerge".

So, just like we should already be doing if we live anywhere that blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or social unrest can occur (yes, you do) think about heat, light, water, food and security after the lights go out. A stocked pantry (don't forget Fido and Barfy), a couple cords of split, dry, stacked wood for the woodstove, a source of water and a means to purify it, a case of candles, and the means to discourage "vigilante redistribution".

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

That poem, written on the battlefield of Ypres in 1915, was almost never published. Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae composed it while sitting on the bumper of an ambulance. The day previous, he had seen his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer killed by an artillery shell, and buried him in a small cemetery next to an aid station. Sergeant-major Cyril Allinson watched him write it, and thought it was "an exact description of the scene in front of us...". Wild poppies were the only things growing in the churned soil of the battlefield cemetery, and they were moving in a light east wind. McCrae was dissatisfied with what he had written, ripped it out of his notebook, and threw it away. It was retrieved by another officer and sent to newspapers in England. McCrae died at the end of the war during the Great Influenza.

How accurate are military rifles?

This post was inspired by the internet commandos who claim that they can shoot 1 M.O.A. (Minute Of Angle, the traditional measurement of accuracy, about one inch at a hundred yards) groups with their rusty surplus rifles, gritty triggers, iron sights and ammunition left over from WWII.

There are indeed rifles and shooters capable of such accuracy. None of them are doing it like the Special Forces Seal Ninja Snipers on, with the cheapest rifles and ammunition they can find.

The closest group that an average human can hold, even from a shooting bench and using sandbags, is about 1/2". All the inconsistencies of the rifle and ammunition are added onto that 1/2".

The best that most unmodified military rifles are capable of with standard ball ammo is 3-4" groups.

Expect at least double that from AK47's.

The army considers 4" groups from it's new M4's normal and adequate.

When the M1 Garand, famous for it's accuracy, was factory new the army tested them in machine rests, which eliminate inconsistencies. The average 100 yard group was 1 3/4 inches. Amazing, but well over 1 M.O.A. even without the human factor added in.

British Enfield sniper rifles were specially selected and tuned and were expected to shoot groups that were 1" wide and 3" high.

From Wikipedia:

"A 2008 United States military market survey for a Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR) calls for 1 MOA ... extreme vertical spread ... meaning the horizontal spread and hence extreme spread are allowed to exceed 1 MOA ... In 2009 a United States Special Operations Command market survey calls for 1 MOA ... extreme vertical spread ... Meanwhile current US Sniper Systems ... do not meet this requirement."

(And remember that those specs are for sniper rifles, not rifles made by the lowest bidder and handed out to the average grunt.)

If you're frustrated because you can't achieve the accuracy you keep reading about on your favorite web site, you can relax. Even better, the next time someone at the range tells you his Chinese AK47 will shoot one M.O.A. groups, slap a hundred dollar bill on the bench and tell him you'd like to see it.

Bonus historical trivia to enrich your life: During the Civil War, internet commandos had to write with feathers dipped in ink, because Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet. Robert E. Lee called them "knights of the quill".

Update: Since this post was written, I've had several indignant fellows tell me that their military rifles will shoot sub-MOA groups with standard ball ammo. So far no one will put their money where their mouth is when I offer a wager, though.

Another update: I stirred up a hornet's nest with this post. I have one fellow claiming that his Swedish Mauser turns in consistent 3/4 MOA groups with ball ammo and open sights. Another says his Enfield puts everything in a single hole at 100 yards. Yet another claims that he shoots 1.5 MOA groups offhand. Of course they all fall back on the standard defense of bullshitters everywhere when I ask to see it: They huff and puff about their "honor".

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Service Rifles

Military rifles have an appealing ruggedness and reliability. Their associations with history are fascinating. They even have an aesthetic attraction if you are firmly in the form-follows-function camp. And service rifle competition is a fun way to hone your shooting skills. These are my four favorites:

At the top is an Enfield Number 4 Mark 2. It's the last incarnation of a rifle used throughout the British Commonwealth for more campaigns than you can shake a stick at, from the fields of Flanders to the jungles of Burma. After reading George McDonald Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here", I couldn't live without one. Mine was made in the 1950's, just as England was adopting the FAL, and it was stored away without ever being issued. It was eventually sold as surplus back when that was legal, and came into my possession a half-century old yet essentially new. It was manufactured well after the wartime extingencies of WWII, and it shows in the quality of materials and workmanship. A brass buttplate sets off a blonde beech stock. It's extraordinarily rugged, simple to operate and clean, capable of good accuracy, and utterly reliable. A fully charged magazine plus one up the spout is eleven rounds, enough to get the average soldier through the average skirmish without reloading. Easy to understand why British troops were so fond of them.

Next down is an M1, America's famous infantry weapon from WWII through Korea and into Vietnam. I bought this from the CMP, or "Civilian Marksmanship Program". (Interesting historical aside: America produced wonderful soldiers up through WWI, mostly because our frontier heritage and unique constitutional freedom to bear arms meant that we were turning out tough hillbillies who grew up shooting and hunting. By WWII, however, our population was mostly urban, and our military leaders were shocked at how poorly new soldiers were performing. The CMP was formed to teach young men how to shoot and to provide them with weapons with which to practice. To this day, if you meet certain requirements, our government will ship a battle rifle and ammunition to your door. The M1 uses a bizarre but effective eight-round en bloc clip that is inserted into an internal magazine. (By the way, the people who will tell you that a partially-empty M1 can't be topped-off are full of shit. I wager them that I can do it in five seconds. So far no takers. The people who will tell you that the "ping" when the empty clip is ejected was a tactical disadvantage are even more full of shit. Even if there were no other rifles firing, no artillery, no other noises whatsoever, do you think an enemy soldier could hear a "ping" after eight muzzle blasts had just been loosed in his general direction? And even if he could hear it, do you think he could do anything about it before you could pop another clip in? If you do, I have an even more interesting wager for you.) Sorry, my intolerance for morons sends me off on tangents. Back on subject: I paid dearly to have some bedding and trigger work done, and this is a seriously accurate rifle. (All internet commandos claim that their beater surplus rifles are amazingly accurate. Most of them can't hit a barn from the inside. This one really will. Sorry, apparently I wandered off again.) Anyway, this was my favorite service rifle until the M14, below:

Third from the top is an M14. Well, a pseudo-M14 anyway. It's a long story of misguided bureaucratic thought, but "real" M14 receivers are illegal on the civilian market. So I bought a legal reproduction and had a gunsmith assemble one with the rest of the parts being "GI" (Government Issue). The M14 is an improved version of the M1, above. It replaces the M1's 8-round internal magazine with a detachable 20-round magazine. A shortened cartridge shaves a pound of weight and an inch of length from the receiver. A flash suppressor preserves the shooter's night vision. The M14 is the last of the steel-and-walnut battle rifles, the culmination of centuries of American rifle-toting tradition, from Daniel Boone to Alvin York. It's balance and handling qualities cannot be improved upon. Once again, I had some bedding and trigger work done, and am very pleased with how well this rifle shoots. It's one weakness is that optics are almost impossible to mount without detracting from those qualities. To compensate, it has perhaps the best iron sights ever made.

Last is an AR15, the civilian version of the "Plastic Fantastic" M16. While I just can't wax romantic about aluminum and plastic, it undeniably has some things going for it: The light weight of both it and it's ammunition, the ease with which optical sights may be mounted, magazines with capacities from 5 to 100, excellent ergonomics, and an adjustable stock to accommodate shooters of different sizes or bulky clothing. It's ammunition lacks the authority of the older rifles above, but a soldier can carry twice as much of it.

.303 British for the Enfield, .30-06 for the Garand, 7.62 x 51 NATO (.308 Winchester) for the M14, and 5.56 x 45 NATO (.223 Remington) for the AR15.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fun with an M14

Summer neighbors from a state further south call police to report "someone shooting". An officer is dispatched, sees nothing wrong, lingers for a friendly chat. The neighbors come over to complain in person. They end up getting my 'short course', exploding a few old bricks as a finale. Now they're emailing me about what rifle they should buy. They're shocked to learn that both this type of rifle and informal plinking on their own land are illegal in their home state. I'll have them voting Libertarian before I'm done.

  • All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  • Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for most inadvertent discharges. Keep your booger-hook off the bang-button.
  • Identify your target, and what is behind it. A tiny lawyer is attached to every projectile that you launch.