Friday, October 29, 2010

To Boldly Go

A One-Way Human Mission to Mars?

photo of the red planet courtesy of wikimedia commons

We have to leave the planet sooner or later and Mars is the only plausible choice at this time.  A mission to to Mars would cost less than half as much if we don't plan to come back.  Would you travel to Mars as a colonist?  Intriguing.

UPDATED TO ADD: here's the entire issue of the Journal of Cosmology dealing with the topic of travel to and exploration of Mars.  The papers are also published as a hardbound volume titled The Human Mission to Mars. Colonizing the Red Planet.

Brostaigh Oraibh, Nó Béimíd Déanach Le Haghaidh An Tine Cnámha

This weekend is Samhain, as they called it in the Auld Sod.

photo from

Samhain was originally a Fall harvest festival that traditionally occurred after the first frost killed the grass and excess cattle were slaughtered because it was cool enough for the meat to keep. The bones of the cattle were thrown into the bonefire, the term from which we take the modern term, bonfire. The bonefire was also a time of remembering the dead, community bonding, ritual purification, and divination. As was its practice, when the Roman Catholic Church encountered Celtic polytheism it Christianized these pagan observances, creating All Saint's Eve and All Saint's Day which are still observed as Halloween.

If you plan to consume ethanol at this year's festivities, please designate a driver.  Do not drink and drive.  Have a plan, stay alive.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deer Rifle Sight-In 2010 "The more things change the more they remain the same..."

As the master of malaprop reminds us, many lessons are are six.

1) The smaller the caliber the better the shooting.

Used appropriately, the 223, 243, 308, 30'06, 357 magnum, 44 magnum, 45 Colt,
and 45/70 all kill whitetails quite neatly, but deliver different levels of recoil.

The fella with a 270 shoots better than his brother with the 300 magnum.  The boy with a 243 shoots better than his uncle with the 30'06.  In fact I'll wager that if more hunters used 243 bolt action rifles many more deer would end up in the freezer every  year. Scoped rifles chambered for the light kicking, flat shooting 243 worked really well for everybody who brought one.  Tight groups at 100 and effective groups at 200 are the norm.  They are pleasant to shoot and easy to shoot well.  Some argue that the 243 lacks killing power and leaves little blood trail, but if you strike your mark - which is much easier to do with a rifle you are not afraid of - a quality 100 grain 243 bullet will make quick work of most any whitetail.  Blood trails do help hunters track poorly hit deer.  The 243 may not leave as good a blood trail as a 30'06 but if you put an expanding bullet from most any legal cartridge through the heart and lungs of your deer you'll almost always find your venison within 50 yards.  The deer hunter using a 30'06 has a tremendous surplus of energy at his disposal but if he hits his deer in the wrong spot it all goes to waste, except for leaving a blood trail.

2) Open sights, such as those commonly used on Marlin and Winchester lever actions, are hard to use well or quickly.

Traditional lever action rifles still come with iron sights mounted on the barrel.  Several shooters could reliably shoot bullets into one ragged hole at 25 yards using iron sights.  They did well at 50 yards, shooting groups three or four inches in diameter.  At 100 yards the wheels usually fell off and an effective group was hard to come by.  By way of comparison it was a rare scoped lever action rifle that couldn't shoot a useful group at the 100 yard line.  This tells me the issue is the classic bead front sight and U-notch rear sight is just about useless for the average shooter unless their deer are very close.  I know from personal experience that an aperture rear sight and a square post front can be used to do very nice work out to 300 meters (and beyond in better hands).

3) Shooting slugs from a six pound 12 gauge pump shotgun with no recoil pad is a brutal experience.

With iron sights only half the shooters we saw could shoot credible groups - four to five inches - at 50 yards.  With scopes or optical sights some can do the same at 100.  Still, it made me wince just watching these fellas trying to shoot them well.  Don't let the pictures in the Cabela's flier fool you.  What looks like a recoil pad on the wood stock Remington 870 Express is made from rubber about as stiff as a truck tire.  Strangely the same gun with the synthetic stock is fitted with the R3 recoil pad, one of the best offered on any factory gun.  The best 12 gauge shotgun shooting was done by a fellow with a Savage 210F bolt action slug gun.  Essentially a Savage rifle chambered for the 12 gauge cartridge, it is purpose built for accurate shooting with sabot style slugs.  A good scope, good rings, and a mount bolted directly to the receiver made it look easy.  Oh yeah, it had a nice recoil pad too.

4) Alloy saddle mounts, cheap rings, and no name scopes on 12 gauge slug guns fail sooner or later.

The refrain "Gee, it worked okay last year" was heard more than once.  Most 12 gauge shotgun slugs pound a shooter as hard as a 375 Holland and Holland "elephant gun" cartridge.  This nasty recoil also ruins cheap mounts, rings, and scopes.  We saw several scopes come unglued.  If you must use a slug gun and wish to scope it select a scope made by Redfield, Burris, Leupold, or better.  I don't have much experience with red dot sights but as a rule the more you pay the less they break.  Buying one good scope is less expensive than buying three cheap ones.  Find a mounting arrangement that lets you attach steel rings to steel mounts to a steel barrel or receiver.  Shopping for quality will save you money in the long run.

5) A recoil pad cost about $15.00, but a new shooter's enthusiasm can be destroyed in about five shots.

A good recoil pad can make the difference between a great day at the range with dad or a painful experience punctuated by the disappointment of shooting poorly.  Purchase a gun that comes with an effective recoil pad installed.  The R3 pad that Remington puts on several of their rifles and shotguns (including their 870 Express Synthetic Youth Model) is a good example.  The truck tire they attach to the wood stock of the 870 Express is a bad example.  Have a gunsmith install a top quality pad on a new hunter's rifle or shotgun, adjusted for the shooter's length of pull.  A one inch thick Pachmayr Decelerator pad is as good as any and better than most.  If you can't afford to do this right now at least buy a slip-on rubber recoil boot.  It's not pretty and it may make the gun a little long but it will take the sting out of recoil.  Finally, buy your new shooter a PAST Recoil Shield.  This strap-on recoil pad is worn by the shooter and can be the difference between smiles and tears.  You can even use it yourself when the kids aren't watching...

6) Hunter Safety training creates safer shooters.

Every young person on the line who had been through the state hunter safety education exhibited excellent gun handling, muzzle control, and safety.  Hunter education may or may not inoculate against buck fever, but good firearm safety habits, once in place, are there forever.  Good on you, safety training volunteers!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Uff Da or Uh Oh?

Kimball Atwood MD, an editor at Science-based Medicine blog, has written a very interesting article titled "Uff Da! The Mayo Clinic Shills for Snake Oil."

Please read Atwood's article before you part with any hard earned cash for the Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine 2011.


This non-Christian's favourite Christian podcast...

Unbelievable is a podcast of the weekly religious radio programme aired by Premier Christian Radio in the UK.  The show is unabashedly promoting an evangelical biblical worldview, but it addresses a variety of topics discussed or defended by non-evangelical Christians, believers from other traditions, and even nonbelievers.  The host Justin Brierly is monumentally even-handed, well read, transparent regarding his presuppositions, and a skilled interviewer.  About the only program that comes close are the older editions of Apologia.  I recommend this examination of the many Christian world views to Christians, other theists, and thoughtful nontheists alike.

The Female Brain

I just finished The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine MD

If you are a woman, know any women, plan to parent a female child, or hope to remain married to a woman, you must read this book. It never ceases to amaze me how many of our supposedly higher functions are driven by hormones. The brain is as much a extremely powerful gland as it is the seat of cognition.  Dr. Brizendine's follow-on book The Male Brain is good, but it seems male brains are much simpler and not nearly as interesting.  I always suspected that, but these two books put that question to rest.  Read both!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Humbling Endeavor

I'm half way through my ESL (ESL Tutor Pre-Service Training) and ABE (Reading, Writing, and GED Tutor Pre-Service Training) tutoring courses at the Minnesota Literacy Council...

If life permits I'll finish the ESL training next week.  The last six hours of the ABE will have to wait until early December.  My fellow volunteers come from all walks of life.  We vary in age from 18 to 80.  Some are retired, others of us are still at work.  The instructors are patient, kind, and clever.  My biggest take away so far is the immensity of the effort that adult language and reading learners apply to the task of learning English.  The MLC has several simple yet painfully effective methods to demonstrate just how hard it is for adults to decode a new language.  A single wicked worksheet rendered me barely literate and a little dyslexic, something I have never experienced in 50 years of reading.  I'm loving it, but this is humbling stuff.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On This Day In Space Exploration History

On 22 October 1975 Russia's Venera 9 landed on Venus...

image from

Venera 9 was the first human spacecraft to land on another planet. It operated for 53 minutes before the temperature (860 degrees F) and pressure (93 times that of Earth) overwhelmed it. Before it died the lander returned several images.  Not such a pleasant place, Venus.

Gunner the Yellow Labrador

We had a fine time watching Gunner chase pheasants during the season opener here in Minnesota last weekend...

As most of the birds he found were hens we didn't get any shots, but a good time was had by all, especially Gunner.  "Hunt 'em up!"

The Economic Argument Against New Age Woo

XKCD "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language," knocks another one out of the park...

This work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License

Note: “Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).”

In other words XKCD comics is not always "safe for work."

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I know the NSA has an important job to do and all...

But this is just a little weird.  Isn't that Eddie Eagle over on the left?  He must be in the Reserve or something.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What About The 30-30?

The 30/30 certainly has been more popular than it is now, but it does seem to hang in there…

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Rifle

When most people say "30/30" they mean the Winchester Model 94 chambered for the 30 WCF cartridge.  Over seven million of them were made.  The ergonomics of the M94 are legendary, but the Winchester’s delightful handling is important primarily to the hunter who needs a snap shot while hunting on foot. Other layouts are as good, and some are better, when shooting from a stand or a blind or from formal positions. The Winchester 94 was discontinued a few years back, which certainly a problem for those who don’t care for the Marlin 336 and haven't heard of the Mossberg 464. While its modest recoil makes the 30/30 a reasonable cartridge for a new hunter, there have never been many youth model 30/30s. Marlin made one for a while. Older Contender carbines could be fitted with a factory-made youth stock. The HandiRifle can be purchased with a short stock but not wearing a 30/30 tube. Even then, all these rifles require a young shooter learn to master an exposed hammer and buck fever at the same time. None of these rifles came with decent recoil pads to shield tender shoulders from recoil.  There have only been a few bolt action 30/30s, the classy Winchester 54, the accurate Remington 788, and the inexpensive Savage 340. Savage made the pump action Model 170 in 30/30; it didn't last. Savage made the Model 24 combination gun in 30/30 over 20 or 12 gauge for many years, but no longer catalogs it. They made their Model 219 single shot in 30/30 too. They even chambered the 99 lever action for the 30/30, even though their 303 Savage cartridge (.308 190 @ 2000) was a direct competitor. Hadn't thought of it until now but Savage may have offered the 30/30 on more platforms than any other single maker.

The classic 30/30 cartridge flanked by the lighter 223 Remington and the full-power 308 Winchester
image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Cartridge

Unless things have changed since I last checked, 30/30 ammunition is still a top seller. For most of its illustrious career the 30/30 has been offered as either a 170 gr bullet at 2100 fps or a 150 at 2300.  That sort of performance was regarded as pretty snappy in 1895, but it was outclassed a quarter century later when the 300 Savage (150 @ 2600) was introduced in the Savage 99. Equal in performance to the 30/30, the 35 Remington (.358 200 @ 1900) has long since faded into honored memory.  When I was kid 35 Remington meant Marlin 336, just like 30/30 still means Winchester 94. The Russian 7.62x39 cartridge delivers almost the same punch (.311 123 @ 2300) as the 30 WCF, making the SKS the most affordable deer gun around (unless you count WWII surplus bolt actions). A 44 magnum carbine (.429 240 @ 1600) is arguably as good at woods ranges, and a 45/70 (.458 300 @ 1800) is better. Likewise, Marlin’s other pretenders to the throne – the 444 and 450 – may be popular in Alaska, but they do nothing the “box or two a year deer hunter” needs done. I expect the upstart 308 Marlin will come and go, just like Winchester’s unlamented 7-30 Waters, 307, 356, and 375 did.

The affordable and adaptable Mossberg ATR Bantam Combo

The Alternatives

There was a time when a lever action Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 was the least expensive big game rifle a new shooter could buy.  Those times have passed.  If you own a 30/30 and all your shots are this side of 200 yards you need not seek a replacement.  But if you have not yet purchased your deer gun there are more capable cartridges and more generally useful rifles available to the average deer hunter. As more states permit the use of 22 center-fires for deer hunting, I predict the M4 will be what most Millennials think of when you say the word “carbine.” It is no powerhouse, but fed the right bullet and shot carefully, a 223 will deliver the venison. A 243 Winchester is a fine little deer round that kills better than most care to admit, shoots much flatter, and kicks even less than the good old Treinta-Treinta. Better yet, a hunter can buy a 260, 270, 7mm08, 308, or 30’06, then feed it Remington Managed Recoil or Federal Low Recoil ammunition to makes his or her full-power rifle into a mild-mannered 30/30 whenever “just enough is plenty.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Social Intelligence and Other Oxymorons

Another very interesting discussion is under way at Schneier on Security titled Monitoring Employees' Online Behavior...

image from wikimedia commons

Seems a firm with the Orwellian title Social Intelligence (too bad Perfect Citizen was taken) is offering to sell to prospective employers an analysis of the social media history of employment candidates, as well as current employees.

The Schneier thread seems to be focusing (correctly) on the social and business impact of false positives. Having seen the The Social Network (good flick BTW) this weekend, it occurs to me that some of the brightest minds in the business world would have been summarily judged as unemployable if a sufficiently detailed pre-employment background investigation had been conducted. 

On their own site Social Intelligence links to an HRM article expressing the importance of tapping into the social media as a powerful recruiting tool.  Do modern businesses really want to hire Millennials who don't use social media?  The Social Intelligence site makes much of the concern that employees waste time on Facebook when they should be working.  Many employers simply block access to sites that waste business time or company bandwidth.  Problem solved.

What about the risk to an employer if their pre-crime detection service that provides a false negative about the next Seung-Hui Cho? One supposes that will be addressed in 8 point legalese across a multi-page "can't touch us" terms of service disclaimer.

It should go without saying that pre-screening is only one step of an effective employee selection, training, development, and leadership process. Unfortunately, I fear the sorts of people who will be most attracted to the notion of pre-crime investigations are not the people who know that goes without saying.

There is a quaint cluelessness to Social Intelligence's marketing. On their Media and Events page they link to a half dozen articles, most of them skeptical, several down-right negative. So long as Max Drucker, the founder and CEO of Social Intelligence, gets quoted in the articles they treat it like good publicity.  In Fast Company's article "Meet the Big Brother Screening Your Social Media for Employers" by Austin Carr, Drucker is asked whether he has applied his company's process to himself?   "Well no, I'm CEO," he says, chuckling. "I created the company!"

I put a few questions to Social Intelligence via their Contact Sales page just now:

  • How do you address responsibility to a client in the case of false negative finding?
  • How do you detect information regarding candidates who use alias when posting in social media?
  • Do you plan ever to sell candidates access to your service so prospective employees can determine what you will tell potential employers?
I look forward to seeing what they have to say.  Until we hear from them what do you think?

Updated 5 October 2010 To Add:

I received a prompt email reply from Social Intelligence this morning addressing the following questions:

How do you address responsibility to a client in the case of false negative finding?

We only furnish accurate reports that have met our strict review to ensure accuracy; however, in a case where an applicant disputes the results we do have a documented dispute resolution process.

How do you detect information regarding candidates who use alias when posting in social media?

Our system identifies aliases using triangulation based on the information provided to us by an employer.

Do you plan ever to sell candidates access to your service so prospective employees can determine what you will tell potential employers?

No, we do not offer a consumer product and do not plan on offering one in the future.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Memo on an Arrow

After watching The Social Network the other night I realized no idea is too strange to make into a business model, so I dug up this idea I floated in Creative Problem Solving.  The boys in marketing are still working on a few sticking points...

Memo on an Arrow

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