Saturday, December 25, 2010

Birthday Thoughts 2010 and Goodwill to Men

A year ago today found me filled with despair for "the human condition". Despite being a Buddhist, I had let myself become attached to a certain end result, and when I discovered that reality was different from my dreams, I could not let go.

I cannot guarantee that I will never let myself be too attached to something again, but I'm not there now, and life feels pretty good. One of the things I'm happiest about is the generosity I've seen demonstrated to good folks in the past couple of weeks. Some of you helped bring a lot of joy and some unexpected help to a family this year. I got a beautiful picture postcard last night, with thanks and blessings. Thank you.

On, one of the staff members asked if the other staff had some AR lower components he could buy, to present a good friend who doesn't have a lot of funds a completed AR lower. Staff built a complete rifle for his friend. I am proud to be associated with such generous people. Even I will be the recipient of some unexpected generosity, as a staff member has offered to send me a loading press he's not using.

At the end of the day, we all fall down sometimes. We all make mistakes. But, sometimes, when it is in our power to do good, when we can touch our world with compassion- this, I think, is when the best of humanity shines.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Some Dreams Do!

My window was fast approaching, and I was afraid the ball was going to be dropped several layers up the paperwork chain. If my 90 days expired before the appropriate documents were sent to Human Resources Command, I would either have to redo the entire process or give up. I was getting nervous.

But. Saturday I received my orders from HRC. I am now a "butterbar", a newly minted 2nd LT. (But with a deployment patch. That helps.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Operation Gift-giver 2010

Folks, I wouldn't claim to be a good man, but I know some. I just found out tonight that an acquaintance is really tight financially. I knew that the business he'd worked for had been in trouble, but he and his wife aren't really going to have a Christmas. No gifts for each other. No decorations. No tree. They have three small children, ages 10 (girl), 7 (boy), and 3 (boy). This...bothers me. Pretty deeply.

I've been a Buddhist for almost half my life, but I still love Christmas. When I'm not being cynical, I treasure the spirit of goodwill and generosity that prompts us to give unselfishly to brighten the lives of others. Though I may enjoy seeing them, the decorations, lights, music and gifts are not what the season is about. They're just symbols of the celebration of the best of human nature. We can't make anyone happy, but sometimes we can do something nice. Just because.

I'm asking for your help. I'm a gun/knife/gear guy, and in some items, I'm well stocked. I can give this man some things he'll appreciate and value...but. I have nothing appropriate to give to most women for Christmas. If you can help, drop a few dollars in my PayPal. My account is JRShirley(at) I'll make sure it's well-spent, with gift certificates being most likely. Alternatively, if you're a woman, and would like to wrap and send something nice to this lady, email me for the address.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Plane vs. Wall

Friend Old NFO finds video showing what happens when a fighter hits a thick concrete wall at 500 mph.  I've seen this before, but it's worth rewatching.

Here's a "greatest hits" version of the whole test, with multiple angles, but no sound:

And, while this may be redundant, Michael Moore is an idiot.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Last Minute Gift Guide've procrastinated on your Christmas gift buying.  Or you find you've forgotten just one person (or two, or three).  What to do?  Well, here is your ticket to redemption, a list of inexpensive but neat nick-knacks that you can order this week and have in time to not look like an ass on X-day.  I even will list them from cheapskate- um, I mean, cheapest to most expensive. Here goes.

Spyderco Honeybee.  This is about the shortest useful blade length, at barely over 1.5".  All metal, handy Spyderco opening hole, and perfect for a necklace, or on a keychain with a micro-light.

The Gerber Shard is a lightweight, inexpensive little keychain tool with screwdriver heads and a bottle opener on a pry bar.  The screwdrivers may be too fat to use well, but the pry bar and bottle opener alone are well worth the cost.  Buy from Amazon for cheaper shipping.

Spyderco Grasshopper.  Similar to the Honeybee, but with a blade over 2", the Grasshopper is a super-inexpensive way to give a useful pocket knife to someone, or at less than $9 right now from Cutlery Shoppe, cheap insurance to stash in backpacks, buggout bags, or emergency kits.

I have used and owned many different keychain lights, and the Photon Microlights are the best of the squeeze-activated.  The Photon IIs have a choice of squeeze-on or lock-on, so the light can be set down or hung up without turning off.  The red is a good choice for finding your way in the dark without destroying your night vision, and has an extremely long battery life (over 120 hours).  I have broken many other small lights that you might think are similar, both cheap lights and the more expensive Inovas.  I have never broken a Photon.  (Note: be careful about ordering the "cheapest" one from Amazon.  Some buyers tack on a $5 or more shipping charge per light.  Order this one.)

The Spyderco Persistence, Tenacious, and Resilience are Spyderco's new made-in-PRC line.  They offer multi-positionable pocket clips for right or left-hand and tip-up or tip-down carry, G10 scales, and skeletonized liners.  All with the sterling Spyderco reputation and quality control.  I have bought Persistence and Tenacious folders to give to friends, and they are extremely high-quality knives.  (I actually prefer the G10 used on these to the G10 used on higher-end Spydercos, because it's not as abrasive and destructive to pants.)  Cutlery Shoppe has the best prices I've found for these, ranging from $25-35, and Jeff at Cutlery Shoppe is just a really nice guy.

When it comes to suitability, the Persistence is sized to be a good daily folder.  The Tenacious is starting to get into big folder territory, at almost 3.5" of blade, and the Resilience  is just huge, with over a 4" blade.   It's probably best suited to outdoor uses, Rambo.  Rocky National isn't quite as cheap as Cutlery Shoppe, but if you want that extra touch, you can order your blade etched from them for an additional $4.95, and it only adds one day to your order.

Well, what if the person you're buying for doesn't like knives or lights?  While it's hard to imagine such a person, should they exist, here are other options.

If your recipient is at least 11, an excellent choice is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.  This is a simply-written but deeply thought-provoking book about adolescence, life, history, war, and the importance of each individual decision.  Oh, it's just a fun read, too, whatever your age.   ;-)

If you are buying for a teen or adult who enjoys reading action-packed books, John Ringo's A Hymn Before Battle (Posleen War #1) is the first of a 4-part series that is perhaps the most enjoyable multi-part scifi I have ever read, helping me pass some otherwise dreary hours in a god-forsaken 4th-world hellhole.  In fact, if you are trying to encourage a teen to read, giving this book might be the incentive they need to dive into the remainder of the series: Gust FrontWhen the Devil Dances, and Hell's Faire.  And- once they have an appetite for reading- they aren't likely to stop there.

Not as refined, but just plain fun, my buddy Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International was the first book in years to keep me awake until I finished reading it.  If you've read the first, the sequel, Monster Hunter Vendetta is now out.

Alec Baldwin was in at least one good movie, and it's rare enough that your intended has almost certainly never seen it.  And this movie is good enough to make up for the rest of Alec Baldwin's career before 30 Rock, filled with intelligent but understated humor and precise but not pretentious dialog.

Mel Gibson's an ass, but for war movies, it's hard to beat the real-life-based We Were Soldiers.

If you want to give music, Diana Krall's When I Look in Your Eyes is an all-time favorite of mine, and music that almost any adult should greatly enjoy.  If your person doesn't enjoy classically great music, try Taio Cruz's Rokstarr.  (Note: not claiming this is "good" or "good for teens", just that they'll almost certainly enjoy it.  You may, too, but you don't have to admit it.)

For the refined of taste but reading and listening impaired, consider some delicious Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno Italian cookies.  Packed in a colorful tin, these amaretto cookies are simply the best in the world.  Yeah.

Okay, so the person on your list reads, but doesn't enjoy purely fun books, or just wants some intellectual stimulation.  Too easy.

Friend Gary Yee's Sharpshooters is both readable and exhaustively researched.  Not cheap, but highly recommended, and packed so full that it's like getting three solid books in one.

Mentor Mark Fissel's The Bishops' Wars: Charles I's Campaigns against Scotland, 1638-1640 is at the pricey end of the book spectrum, but sure to impress.  And Dr. Fissel is worth reading.

Okay: what if none of these things seems to be what you've looking for?  Hell, I dunno.  Get 'em a slingshot.  And eye pro, kids.

Friday, November 26, 2010

For What We Receive

My Thanksgiving was relaxed and fulfilling. I hope yours found you thankful and at peace, as well.

(I'm trying to post a pic, but no matter what I choose from that toolbar, my Android only selects "link". Maybe later.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Golden Time/Like It's 1999

Several different events- inflation, rising metal prices, high demand, and the dollar losing strength against foreign currency- all led to skyrocketing ammunition prices in the last couple of years. In some calibers, prices literally doubled- when you could find any ammunition at all! In the last few months, supply seems to have finally caught up with demand, and as prices have dropped somewhat, I have invested in my own ammunition store.

I was talking to a friend about this. He's a competitive long-distance shooter, and very active with shooters in his local area. His take on the situation mirrors mine- prices can only rise from here, and this is the time to buy if you can. Here are some links.

Aim Surplus does not have a very wide selection, but they can be a good source especially for military calibers and inexpensive foreign ammunition.

Georgia Arms has been a favorite source of mine for years. Much of their ammunition is a screaming deal, while a few of their offerings (some of their rifle hunting ammo in particular) can be bested by major manufacturer rounds.

Midway has a broad ammunition selection, though the loaded ammunition can frequently be found less expensively elsewhere. The major advantage they offer is the huge selection, including components for the handloader, they have available.

Sportsman's Guide was a company I used frequently when I was younger. I sometimes found very good deals on surplus items like East German coats, and I liked the ability to set up an account, and distribute the cost of a large purchase over a few months. Here's a link to their ammo.

I am not saying the sky is falling. I am saying it's good to have gear before you need it, instead of being forced to pay a premium for whatever's available when you need it right damn now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I am not yet an officer, no matter what any friends of mine, however dear and close, [cough]Matt![/cough] may have reported.

I do have the paperwork.
I am supposed to commission.
I have a slot at nearby Fort Belvoir, and don't see any near-term deployment. BUT- I am waiting on orders from my current command releasing me, before I can swear my oath as an officer.

I'll let y'all know, promise. And in other News of John, I'm doing just fine. :-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


EDITED TO ADD: the sale is now over. These are still great knives at fair prices, but not the screaming steal they were when I posted this.

I like knives. I like firearms and other tools too, but there is no other tool that will get as much daily usage in the kitchen or around the house as a good knife. Spyderco really pioneered the practical one-handed folder, giving convenience, strength, speed and safety to pocketknives. Since 1990, Spyderco's two best-selling knives have been the Endura and the Delica. The Endura is starting to get into big knife territory, with about a 4" blade, but the Delica is in a "sweet spot". It has just under a 3" blade, and it's like the baby bear's porridge, big enough to use well and to handle just about any daily task you might encounter, but small and light enough to carry easily and be convenient. When I was training with Bud Malmstrom at the Bujinkan Atlanta Dojo, every now and then, the instructor would call "Spyderco check!" and everyone would draw their folder. The Delica was most often what emerged from pockets and waistbands.

I talked to Sal Glesser, the head of Spyderco, at the 2007 BLADE Show, and he showed me the Delica 4. The Delica 4 has "screw construction", which means it can be easily dissasembled with just a screwdriver. The steel pocket clip can be moved for tip-up or tip-down carry on the right or left side. Skeletonized steel liners add additional strength while keeping the Delica 4 nice and light, and the Delica comes with excellent VG-10 steel. All of this, in a knife that usually sells for around $50. I looked at Sal in amazement. This knife should sell for over $100. He grinned at me. "Yep."

If you think I like this knife, you'd be correct. Spyderco is known for innovation, quality, and strong ethics. And they're just plain friendly folks. While I was in Afghanistan, I had some conversation over the net with Sal about a knife (what became the Spyderco Jumpmaster), and Sal suggested I apply for the monthly drawing they had to send a Spyderco Native to a deployed soldier. I applied- and next month, I had a Native from Spyderco, with a nice letter from Mrs. Glesser.

(Now, I know I didn't win that drawing. Some other soldier did, and got his own Native- but I sure as hell did put that knife through the ringer during several fire missions on top of a mountain, cutting into old "tootsie roll" mortar round carriers. No company is better than its people, and Spyderco is damn good people.)

If you've gotten the idea that I like Spyderco in general, and the Delica in particular, you'd be right. VG-10 is a great, stain resistant steel. Spyderco also offers a "super-super steel", ZDP 189, on a few knives. ZDP 189 can take an extremely hard temper, resulting in a blade that is capable of incredible sharpness, yet still resists chipping. The Delica is available in a ZDP version, and there are just a few left at an incredible price- the same as the extremely affordable regular Delica- on Amazon. I suggest you get one while they last.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rolling, rolling

Life keeps chugging along. I've been doing quite a bit more training recently, which is good for me in a number of ways. Lauren, our head instructor, told us we needed to make some padded training weapons.

Carl and I picked up PVC pipe, two sizes of PVC insulation, and heavy duct tape from Home Depot. We were standing in front of the checkout counter when I turned to him.

You know...we should find a way to add weights, so these will balance like real swords.

We ended up using 6" lengths of 1/4" steel pipe and epoxy for additional weight and balance. The epoxy and steel made the project much longer, more complicated, and more than tripled the cost, but Carl and I were giggling like middle-schoolers most of the time.

The additional weight and balance shift really gives a more realistic feel to our padded long and short swords. The extra weight also means they can deliver a real smack, while the double insulation means the weight is distributed enough to not injure. And Carl and I had a ridiculously good time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And in other news...

(This is a more adult blog than usual. Be warned.)

Americans evidently do not have enough healthy, fulfilling sex, and have too much time on their hands. This leads to a preoccupation with sex, and the latest evidence of this is the widespread fascination with slutty Karen Owen's "sex thesis" in which she rated the performance of 13 partners while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree at Duke University. If you have nothing better to do than fascinatedly read about some college athlete's penis size and how good he was or wasn't in the sack, you need to get a life.

Once again, we learn that if you behave badly on the internet, it's probably never going to go away. And that women are capable of even more objectification than men (there is no equivalent to some women's preoccupation with penis size: and I, to be extremely frank, have never heard men have the fixation with very tight genitalia that would be the closest direct equivalent, from a man's perspective- which can be taken care of through a few minutes' worth of exercise by a woman every other day, in any case). The things that some men focus on in women can be taken care of by exercise and surgery. Good luck with similar penis surgery.

So, in summary, if you have a happy, healthy, sex life, carry on. Keep doing what works. And if you're a pathetic individual who needs to vicariously live through others' lurid accounts, you need to change something.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Old, Stinky Dogs

Old Dogs
John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston

Even an appearance by Justin Long, wearing a mustache, couldn't save this one. 1/5 stars.

Monday, September 6, 2010

I Heard About the Morgans

I just finished watching the surprisingly enjoyable Did You Hear about the Morgans?  I should confess that I've enjoyed Hugh Grant in everything I've seen him in, so far.  Music and Lyricsis one of my favorite romantic comedies.  Hm.  (Just saying that, I'm embarrassed to admit I have favorite romantic comedies.)   He was also perfect for his role in Love Actually.

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, who I usually find annoying, star in this comedy about an estranged couple who witness a murder.  They end up finding shelter with a couple played by the incomparable Sam Elliott and capable Mary Steenburgen.  The chemistry between the couple is excellent, every actor plays his part beautifully, and there are a few enjoyable jokes about the gun culture and Democrats.  With an extra half a star for the first movie use I've seen of a Kel-Tec carbine, it gets 3.5/5 stars.

Salt and The Other Guys

Salt is the Angelina Jolie spy thriller. It succeeds in having lots of action, and is well-acted. The unfortunate part is that Salt has a ridiculously overcomplicated plot that is, somehow, still predictable. After adding back in half a star for the most innovative use of a Taser in a movie, it nets 3/5 stars. Don't expect a lot except gunfire and big lips, and you should be happy.

The Other Guys pits Will Ferrell against and with Mark Wahlberg. Will Ferrell seems to only know how to play humor one way, over the top (with perhaps the single exception of the touching Stranger Than Fiction). This works in some movies (Old School , Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights) but falls down in others (Semi-Pro, Stepbrothers). Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson make brief but even more outrageous appearances (but at least you're not in a Disney flick this time, right, Dwayne?).  If you can handle your humor silly and applied heavily, you'll enjoy this movie. 3.5/5 stars.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Continuing Gulf Problems

The environmental and economic problems the USA has been experiencing in the Gulf of Mexico continued today with another oil rig explosion. The Mariner Energy rig off the coast of Louisiana is about 200 miles west of the British Petroleum rig that caused massive leakage this year. The 13 rig crew members donned "gumby" suits and huddled together in the water until rescued by the Coast Guard.

gumby survival suit, Dillingham, United States
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Gumby survival suit, Dillingham, United States

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exploding Across Your Screen

Last year, little brother mentioned an upcoming movie with most of the major action stars.  There are a few actors out there who can shine even in horrible movies shot for a $50 budget (witness Drew Barrymore- of all people!- in Guncrazy), but some actors are capable of very good work, but rarely are given good scripts and direction.  Dolf Lundgren is a prime example. Lundgren starred in 1989's The Punisher, but despite Lundgren's martial arts ability and believable onscreen toughness, the script was so bad, The Punisher was shown in one theater, then sent straight to video. He had enjoyable roles in Showdown in Little Tokyo and I Come in Peace, lower-budget but very fun flicks in 1990 and 91.   Universal Soldier with Van Damme was in 1992, and Lundgren played his part beautifully, but the script tried too hard towards the end.  These days, Lundgren has fallen into the Steven Seagal/Cuba Gooding, Jr. routine of starring in cheap action thrillers, though, like Wesley Snipes, Lundgren can still put in a solid performance- and would beat Seagal's posing, spouse-abusing flabby ass into hamburger without breaking a decent sweat. One of Lundgren's selling points was his extremely fit, ripped body, though it was a capable, realistic martial artist form instead of Schwarzenegger's swollen bodybuilder physique.

A more recent, and probably more gifted actor is Jason Statham.  Another very capable martial artist, Statham was impeccable in one of my favorite movies, 2000's Snatch.  He's starred in action fantasies such as The Transporter and the 2008 remake of Death Race, both enjoyable fluff, and been in other roles not demanding martial artistry, such as the well-done The Italian Job and the true story The Bank Job.  True, Statham broke my heart when he voluntarily participated in the Uwe Boll "movie", In the Name of the King, but I forgive you, Jason.  (I wouldn't even watch In the Name for Kristanna Loken, who has now been in TWO of Boll's abominations.  Kristanna, you are dead to me.)

When Philip mentioned a movie that would have Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Jason Statham, and others, I admit, I was wildly excited.  (The "others" turn out to be Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Gary Daniels, and Terry Crews!) Claire, on the other hand, commented, "Smells like desperation."  Could a movie packed with stars deliver?  The Expendables opened a week ago, and I found myself awake early this morning.  When I work following a day off, I like to get up early, and then go back to bed for a nap in the afternoon before going in to work.  I lucked out, finding my closest theater had a 9:15 showing, which I enjoyed  (After having my ID carefully scrutinized at AMC.  I guess the ticket-taking attendant thought I was cutting my high school classes!)

On to the movie.  The plot is pretty basic, probably because it's been done in real life many times in the past 100 years.  A group of mercenaries is hired to kill the leadership of an island currently run by a murderous dictator.  The client may have ulterior motives.  (There was a lot of this type of thing that happened in the 60s and 70s in Africa, and some of the mercs ended up fighting for purely personal motives, and being abandoned by their employers even before that point.)

One trailer shows a discussion between Arnold Schwarzenegger and cowriter/director/star Stallone.  Unlike many trailers these days, the entire story isn't given away, and the best part of the conversation isn't shown!  This is an extremely funny exchange, for which Willis is also present, and the only time Willis and Der Gubernator are in the film.

How much realism do we want in a movie?  Expendables finds a pretty good balance between the ultra-realistic movies like The Way of the Gun and outright fantasy such as Shoot 'Em Up and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  The only perpetually unrealistic element is knife throwing, but I can forgive this when so many things are done right- such as depicting what happens when a small skilled martial artist fights a large skilled martial artist, or showing a rapid handgun reload without silliness like tossing magazines in the air or "self-loading" magazine pouches.  Stallone's Barney Ross shoots his 1911s about as fast as humanly possible, though his shots 4 through 6 with a single-action revolver might be faster than actually possible.  He also carries 3 sidearms, in addition to his rifle (for any non-gunnies: this would never happen). Terry Crews rocks an autoloading shotgun sometimes loaded with exploding rounds, but he's not running around with a Mini Gun a la Predator or Terminator II. 

Expendables doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's serious enough.  I think today was the first time I've ever seriously thought, I want a flying boat.  It's a little sad that Ahnuld isn't in condition anymore to throw any lead in this movie, but there's still plenty of action to spread around.  Couture and Austin aren't the best actors, but director Stallone wisely handles this by keeping their mouths shut almost the entire time, making them MUCH better actors. 

I'm really happy Lundgren gets to be in a vehicle with a good script again, and he delivers.  Everyone does, though Roberts as an EVIL corporate overlord doesn't use his own martial arts abilities.  Jet Li provides very earnest comedic relief as well as kicking ass, and Mickey Rourke is just scenery.  Disturbing scenery.  He may not be acting.
Really, about the only way this movie could be better, is if Steven Seagal and Jean Claud van Damme were in this movie, too.  And they were both gruesomely killed by Chuck Norris in a 30-second cameo.  An extremely enjoyable 4.5/5 stars.  Language, bloody violence, and a rollicking good time.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Eight people died because of their own stupidity on Saturday, August 14, 2010. The eight were among a group crowded close to watch off-road trucks in Mojave Desert Racing's California 200, when driver Brett Sloppy rolled his Ford Ranger after a jump.

The section where too-few stupid people were forcibly ejected from the gene pool is popular because the off-road vehicles are airborne. Fans stood as close as four feet from the racing vehicles, despite no guardrail or other protection. The only real apparent tragedy is the injury of a child who was one of the 12 injured survivors.

Hey, stupidity should hurt, folks. I'm sorry a child was injured, but much like the joke about 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea...What do you call the death of 8 people who were stupid enough to stand just feet away from A RACE TRACK without any protective barrier? A good start.

Friday, August 13, 2010

UC Berkeley Wants Your Genes

The far-left would like you to believe they are champions of individual liberty. One must then wonder why UC Berkeley, that bastion of pinko wackyism, wanted to take samples of DNA at new-student orientation. It's a sad day when the California State Assembly, of all groups, has to exert some common-sense.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Captivate Me!

Almost three weeks ago, I was given a Samsung Captivatefor an anniversary gift. I had been using the LG Neon, and to say that I was not happy with it would be a fairly dramatic understatement. (Besides other issues, about half of the time I would make a call, there would be perhaps a 15-second delay before I could hear the other party.) I recently bought an inexpensive Chinese media player, and- surprise!- got what I paid for. Claire knew of my issues with my media player, and offered to buy me an iPod Touch.

After some research, I suggested that perhaps a good smartphone would meet my portable media needs as well, and resolve my phone issues, too, and might be in the same price range. I bought my Palm Centro (which succumbed to "battle damage" because someone was dumb enough to take it on missions with him at WLC) just over a year ago, so I have many months to go before I am eligible to get discounted pricing for renewing my two-year contract. I have been very interested in Google's Android operating system as an open-source alternative to the iPhone, with its proprietary code, but ATT was late to the Android game, since iPhone is only offered by ATT (and they must have believed they'd be competing against themselves). The first ATT Android, the Backflip, didn't appear to be an ideal solution.

At the ATT store, Claire urged me again to get a phone that I was really happy with, even if it was more than I'd wanted her to spend. The manager pointed out the Captivate (ATT's version of the Samsung Galaxy S), which was so new the sticker hadn't even been put on its pedestal yet. The screen was very large (4"!) and bright, the colors were vibrant, controls were intuitive and I was quoted a no-commitment price of $350. (Which was apparently at least $150 cheaper than it should have been, but ATT had some much-needed kissing up to do to me, anyway.)

So far, I am LOVING this phone! I use a lot of Google products already, so I can use various Google application FREE instead of paying to use ATT services that are most likely not as good. I can use Google Maps to navigate, use Google Voice to send text messages without using any of my pool of ATT SMS, and use Google Chat to send messages to friends who are using computers or smartphones. If I'm in another application, new chat messages will pop up at the top of my screen, and I get a lot of use out of the Kindle app. Since the Captivate has GPS, I can hear turn-by-turn directions to addresses I type in, or select on the map. (Since I have special abilities of losing myself, I especially like this feature.) Video is clear and bright, the camera is excellent, and the phone's apps are easily customizable. I have tons of storage capacity (16G, plus the 16G micro SD I added), and almost all commands are almost idiot-proof.  Since ATT wants to take every cent they can from their customers, they do not offer unlimited data plans. To reduce my data consumption, whenever possible, I use the Captivate's WiFi.

What I don't love: I'm still acclimating to the virtual keyboard. The Captivate/Galaxy has a "SWYPE" function, but I haven't really played with it yet. It took me a while to find a way to not have to wade through the THOUSAND or so people listed as my GOOGLE contacts when I'm just trying to make a PHONE call, dammit (from "phone" function, choose "contacts", then "groups")! The only true flaw I've found is the power supply. The Captivate's power/data connection is on the curved top of the phone. The slightest jar will knock it loose (a coworker with a competitor's version of the Galaxy with a straight top, does not have this problem).

The Captivate so far has proven to be an excellent mobile computing device and media player, and it's a pretty good phone, too. I give it a 9.75 of 10 possible points.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Old Good Stuff

Martial arts have been a major part of my life.  I moved to Ohio in 1994 to train in a relatively obscure martial art.  My mother had a cancer relapse in 1995, so I moved back to Mobile.  I moved to to Atlanta in mid-1996, because it was almost halfway between my wife's parents and my family, there were jobs to be had- and I could train.  I trained in two dojos in the Atlanta area until I enlisted in the Army in late 2001.

At Fort Lewis, I was fortunate enough to find a 5th-degree black belt in my art, and trained with him for several months.  I've trained here and there with interested novices, but haven't had any formal instruction in at least seven years.  A few months after I moved to the area, I thought of looking up Bujinkan dojos in the area.  Lo and behold, there are many.  I tried to visit the closest THREE TIMES.

The first time, somehow the wrong zip code was attached to the address I typed into Google Maps, which had me wandering around at least 10 miles away from where I needed to be.  The second time, I missed, retraced, called, re-missed- and finally found the complex I was looking for about when training ended.  The third time, the weather wasn't great, and I found the complex in time- then spent 45 minutes or so wandering around on foot, looking for the group.  No dice.  I gave up in disgust after that third time, thinking that maybe it wasn't meant to be.

I've been training with one of the officers from my new unit.  He wants to improve his hand-to-hand skills, so we've been meeting once a week while I teach him a simplified curriculum of things like chokes, breakfalls, and punches.  Before we started training, I'd begun thinking that I should probably give the DC dojo another try, now that I was getting more familiar with the area.  When my trainee asked if we could visit the local dojo, it seemed serendipitous.  I checked the schedule again, and sure enough, classes meet on Mondays- which I usually have free.

My training partner told me we could park on the base on which I work.  And finding the group of martial artists practicing on the lawn, from the direction we walked, couldn't have been much easier.  I participated in the belt training the class was having, and it was a good review.  I'm a little rusty, and I especially need to work on my Japanese terms, but if I can get to class regularly, I wouldn't be surprised if I can get my black belt in less than a year.  Finally.

And hopefully, I'll be back in fighting trim soon, because right now, my back and thighs feel like they've been worked over with a bat.  But I can deal with it.  :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monday Mornings

I walked towards the door and picked up my running shoes. Tempy padded over and looked expectantly up at me. "No, baby, you're not going with me," I told her. She kept looking up at me.

"Well, okay," I relented, and slipped the leashes on the dogs before I made my way outside to the patio for a Monday morning sit in the pleasantly cool weather visiting the DC area. Since I hit the big time (joking), I actually have my own cigar credit card from JRCigars. Probably the biggest reason I applied for the card was the sampler of high-quality cigars I would get with my first card order. (The fine print said "First order OVER $100, but I still got the sampler!) I decided to break into that batch today with a Romeo Y Julieta Maduro that had been sitting in my humidor for almost two months.

As I sat on the patio, I believed there was almost no risk of me suffering violent attack. Since "very little" is not the same as NO, I had a little alloy Smith and Wesson .38 on my belt. If I felt the risk was higher, I would have worn at least one of my automatics, and if I thought the risk was high, I wouldn't have sat there. I took a Long Hammer IPA with me.

India Pale Ales tend to be too bitter for me, but Long Hammer is one of the few I enjoy. It's still "grapefruity" while not being overpowering. It's powerful enough to stand up to most cigars, while also leaving a clean feeling to offset the heavy taste of a cigar. I often use a good stout, Scotch and water, or whiskey and water, but a Long Hammer works really well.

Romeo Y Julieta cigars are a favorite higher-quality cigar. Since Cuba went communist in 1960, Cuban cigars command a premium, since they are illegal to sell in the United States. The brand, as with several other cigar brands, has spit into Central American-based and Cuban companies. The RyJ Reserve Maduros are made in the Dominican Republic. Non-cuban Romeo Y Julieta are not the most expensive cigars that can be found, but they have a good reputation.

My Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro's wrapper was a bit on the veiny side, but looked well contructed. Since I didn't order it, I'm not sure the exact dimensions- not thinking to measure it before smoking- but I think I may have smoked a 7x48. I clipped the end and lit.

The taste was fairly strong, but not overly bitter or harsh. Espresso is probably the best flavor description, toasty, but not burnt. The draw was not too tight, nor too loose. A good quantity of smoke was produced. The burn time was almost exactly an hour, and the flavor stayed very consistent throughout the smoke. I tend to leave a lot of a cigar unsmoked, but I smoked this one down to just over an inch. The burn stayed fairly consistent, but was not perfectly even.

Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro
Appearance: 3.5 stars
Taste: 4.5 stars
Construction: 4 stars
Burn: 4 stars

The Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro I smoked was a solid 4/5 cigar (actually, a bit better than 4/5). When you're talking about cigars that can be afforded by most of us, the Romeo Y Julieta is a good bet. I may have a new favorite cigar.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


The 80s was the decade of the ninja. Stephen K. Hayes wrote a column for Black Belt Magazine, "ninja" movies were everywhere, and on many young chests shirts showing a portrayal of a "ninja" in a karate flying side kick could be seen. Since most people had no idea what ninjutsu (sometimes rendered ninjitsu[sic]) was, some teachers of karate and tae kwon do rebranded and became instant ninja masters, much as today many schools proclaim to teach Mixed Martial Arts.

2009's Ninja shares some historical elements with many of the 1980's ninja movies, including students practicing karate, ritualized magic, and a Western leading character who ends up fighting a Japanese ninja who has gone to the dark side. (An early scene shows Casey (Scott Adkins) practicing in a white gi while Masazuka(Tsuyoshi Ihara) can be seen across from him working in all black. Symbolic? NOOOOO.) The "good" ninja does not use firearms, while the evil Asian assassin has his own special handgun and high technology armor and tools. At the same time, some of the terminology used in the movie is more authentic than the 80's offerings, and the ground rolls shown by the actors are impeccable. The actual fighting seems to be mostly karate, with the occasional Wu Shu thrown in for theatrics.

Don't watch this movie looking for Oscar-winning performances. Nor is this the movie if you're looking for a trashy B flick with lots of gratuitous skin. If you're in the mood for a movie that enjoyably combines the 80's US ninja flicks with standard elements from Japanese warrior films, Ninja may help with an enjoyable but not over-serious Friday night or Saturday afternoon. And there will be blood. 3/5 stars.