Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Hazard To Navigation

And an impediment to productivity...

The Oatmeal - whose writer, illustrator, and coder, Matthew Inman, loves dogs and fears cats - positively slays me (and has been since January 2011).

Oh, and he's leading a fundraising drive to open a Nikola Tesla museum in his original laboratory.

The Oatmeal rocks even better than Sriracha Rooster Sauce.

Visit today and be changed forever.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ochre and Bone, Flint and Clay

Not all evidence of civilization endures as history...

The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age is a fascinating examination of the period between the Upper Paleolithic Revolution and our earliest historical knowledge.  Civilization did not arise fully formed like a Venus on the half shell.  This wide-ranging but effectively concise book explains that our climb to modernity began many centuries before the Sumerians, Egyptians, and the Minoans began to create history.  Written by Richard Rudgley in 1999, Lost Civilizations foreshadowed wonders yet to be unearthed at Wonderwerk, Blombos Cave and other excavations where we moderns strive to discern the nature of our paleolithic origins.

Photo credit: The Museum of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium, by way of

Clever Isn't Necessarily Compelling

C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is merely challenging...

A friend with whom I discuss religion asked me to read one of his favorite books and even made a gift to me of a copy. I've known of C.S. Lewis since middle school but I had not read any of his explicitly religious work.  Linda and I read The Chronicles of Narnia books to the kids when they were young.  They enjoyed them and so did we.  When it comes to religion Lewis was a skilled writer and speaker (Mere Christianity was originally a series of lectures he gave on BBC radio during WWII).  While not a theologian or a philosopher, Lewis was certainly a very clever apologist. He delivers his description of a manly, muscular Christianity in a rather neat package, with all the contradictory bits tucked away, snipped off, or just ignored. Lewis levels the field, minimizing the value of non-Christian goodness and explaining away the all too frequent examples of unregenerate behavior seen in many Christians.  I can see why evangelicals find him compelling, but I don't.  All that said, those who would debate Christianity - from any perspective - should read it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Footprints or Fossils?

Big news from the Curiosity rover on Mars!

Oh, please be footprints or fossils, please be footprints or fossils...

Seriously, the big news - "This data is gonna be one for the history books" - is apparently the result of work done with the SAM lab on the rover, so it's probably just interesting chemistry - organic molecules maybe.  Yeah, that's cool.  No really, it's very nice.  We should be grateful.  Thank you.  I mean what else could we possibly expect?

Not Tharks.  It's never Tharks...

UPDATE: NASA sez "Not So Fast!"

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics. 

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars' Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

For more information about NASA's Curiosity mission, visit:

Not even organics...peh!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Should Probably Know Better

Than to read three books at once...

But I am.

I signed up for a GoodReads giveaway for Freedom Club.  I didn't win the drawing, but was pleased and surprised to receive an email from the author Saul Garnell who offered me an e-book download with his compliments.  Very cool!  Not so cool is reading it on my iPhone where this science fiction novel's 416 densely written pages have been magically expanded to 1985 virtual snippets, each only a few paragraphs in length.  It's like reading a book written on a pad of Post-It notes.  Many thumb-flick page turns have been clocked.  I'm on post-it 1183...

Speaking of page turning, The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age by Richard Rudgley, is a fascinating examination of the period between the Upper Paleolithic Revolution and our earliest historical knowledge.

A friend invited me to read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and made a gift to me of a spare copy.  His arguments are about as strong as I expected them to be (I've heard and read his arguments offered up by others on several occasions), but it's also telling me more about the man who wrote it and the very British perspective from which he viewed the world.

There are worse problems to have than too many books to read.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If Appreciating Krista Tippett Makes Me An Accommodationist

Then where is my Accommodationist T-shirt?

But before you leave have a listen to the The Civil Conversations Project at On Being.

The CCP is in its second season of bringing together really smart, truly passionate, utterly human people who are willing to disagree and remain in dialogue.  It's very cool.

Season Two, which I found more fully formed than the 2011 season, features:

In 2011 Season One offered us topics like:

Frankly, I frequently find her equanimity maddening.  Listening to episodes of On Being, and her earlier Speaking of Faith, my inner voice sometimes shrieks "Call him a liar!"  But she doesn't, and I keep coming back.   If Tippett is not radical enough, or reactionary enough, to suit your perch on the continuum of such things perhaps you should consider the merits of dialogue instead of diatribe, or the very important difference between passion and hatred.

There are better people out there than you and me.  Krista Tippett is one of them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

None of Us Got Everything We Wanted

But there is wisdom to guide us...

The day after our deeply divided United States of America held a strongly contested national election, Philip Palin, one of the several skilled writers at Homeland Security Watch, reminds us we have faced periods of much deeper division, harsher challenges, and deadlier threats, during which perhaps the finest President in the history of the Republic sought to bind our wounds and prepare for the work ahead.

Philip quotes from the Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln and several commentaries on it.  His post is worth reading in its entirety, but here is a taste of what Presidents used to be like:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Now there was a President far better than any we’ve had in quite some time.  Last night none of us got everything we wanted, but we all may have received more than our efforts warrant.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sometimes Just Enough is Just Right

A 3x3 with the 223...

Erik and I committed to hunting with non-lead bullets this year.  His Kimber 84M 308 weighs all of six and a half pounds so I loaded a 130 grain Barnes TSX over enough IMR3031 for an estimated 2700 fps.  As I was essentially creating my own managed recoil ammunition - but with a non-lead bullet - I needed charge weights below the usual minimums for 308 Winchester ammunition. I settled on 300 Savage loading data, which has similar case capacity but a lower operating pressure thus less velocity.  The special recipe worked fined; too fine, actually.

Earlier this fall I set up my Remington 243 and 30-06* rifles in their youth length stocks for my cousin's kids to use (but they never got around to borrowing them - one bagged a buck in a pre-season youth hunt and his older sister chose to hunt with stick and string this year).  My other 30-06, a Clifton-Gunsite 1903 pseudo-scout was in the middle of an adventure in scope ring replacement.  Mjolnir was ready for action, but our shots these past couple years have been mostly first light or last light terminations of relaxed deer eating their last meal.  A .458 350 grain flat nose soft at 1800 fps seemed needlessly energetic for the freezer doe I would likely drop the hammer on.  [Yes, the Hornady InterLock is a lead bullet but the data suggest a bullet at that velocity does not shed nearly so many, if any, lead particles.]  I decided to try my custom 223 Sako L461 again.  I used it to take an adult whitetail doe in North Dakota eight or nine years back, but that time it was loaded with Winchester 64 grain PowerPoints, their smallest big game bullet.  This time I wanted a non-lead slug and settled on the Hornady GMX 50 grain hollow point.  I loaded it over a case-filling maximum charge of IMR3031 for an estimated 3200 fps.  It was an inch or so high at 100 yards and range the gong just below center at 200.  I was good to go.

Then the deer didn't show up.  The population is down and the feed plots we usually hunt over had not been planted.  Usually a fella gets a glimpse or two of deer in the distance or fawns frittering the day away while mom and the aunts remain carefully hidden.  Not this time.  It was like Waiting for Godot...With Guns.  I saw nothing all day but trees, melting snow, dirt, and sky.  I read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity - a gift from a friend, sipped Gatorade, nibbled on salty crunchy snacks, peed into Gatorade bottles, and took intermittent cat naps, all day long.  

Late afternoon on Saturday I heard a shot from the direction of Erik's stand.  He confirmed via text message (we still get two bars all of ten miles from the Canadian border) that, yes indeed, a doe had made his acquaintance much to her terminal regret.  Erik's 2012 doe, a yearling, came nosing around his stand and stood for her broadside all of 10 meters distant. The doe made a short dash and expired. The TSX passed through both shoulders without hitting bone, took out the ribs on either side, did in both lungs, and slashed off the top of the heart. While the bullet hit no shoulder bones, blood had ruined the stew meat by the time we got round to skinning her forequarters the next day.

Sunday morning Erik slept in while I dragged myself out of the sack at 5:00 AM thanks to the ill-timed switch to daylight savings.  I sat in the stand Erik used the day before until 10:00 AM and decided to pack it in.  We still had a deer to cut up and 400 some miles to drive.  As I walked back to the truck I encountered an interesting deer trail and took it as a detour.  After a few minutes of strolling I bumped a doe out her bed but had no time for a shot.  I ambled in the direction she had sprinted, thinking I might encounter her or her neighbors again.  I came across a narrow lane that had been bulldozed into the woods earlier this summer.  There was some greenery, deer tracks, and game trails so I decided to sit for a spell.  Seems I must have closed my eyes for just a minute because I was looking at the inside of my eyelids when I heard a crash just across the lane from me.  I saw a buck doing a 180 back into the woods.  He hadn't expected to see me I guess.  He wasn't large - six points, a 3x3 - but he'd make for tasty venison.  He disappeared into the woods on the other side of the lane but I expected he'd show himself again shortly.  Sure enough, he cut a semi-circle and reemerged, a later lazed 38 yards, down the lane to my left.  He was contemplating me skeptically, but not cautiously, as I laid my cross-hairs on his shoulder, slipped off the safety, and pressed the trigger.  At the shot he jolted straight into the air.  He came down heavily and staggered away on three legs.  There was no blood at the point of impact or for the next 30 yards, but I found him quite dead at the end of a sparse blood trail about ten yards long. 

As I field dressed my 2012 venison I determined that the bullet hit the left shoulder, blew a two inch hole in the ribs, ruined the top half of the left lung, destroyed the top half of the heart - both atria and great vessels alike, damaged the bottom half of the right lung, pierced the diaphragm, shredded a path through the liver, penetrated the diaphragm back into the chest cavity again before exiting between the last couple ribs on right side. 

The grisly detail is offered because the 223 Remington, the civilian version of the U.S. military's 5.56x45mm, is not usually regarded as a big game cartridge.  In this case the monometal GMX hollow point did everything a bullet traveling on the same path might be expected to do.  I've used bullets from 357, 44, and 45 pistols, 223, 243, 270, 308, 30-06, and 45-70 rifles, and .54 and .62 caliber flintlocks, from 80-405 grains, at velocities from 900-3200 feet per second, to inflict essentially the same wounds with essentially the same effects.  That said, the blood trail was non-existent to begin with and sparse even toward the end, a shortcoming I've encountered several times when using the 243 and on one occasion with 30-06 managed recoil ammunition, so this is probably not a round to use in the rain or at the end of the day unless your game is out in the open.  Frankly, I had wondered a little how effectively the wee pinhole of a hollow point would help the solid gilding metal spitzer open up.  I needn't t have worried.  The cone-shaped wave of destruction caused by this well-engineered pill blew out two ribs on the way into the chest.  If anything, Hornady's 55 grain GMX (or even their 70 grain, if it will stabilize in my Sako's Shilen 1:9 twist barrel) arriving with less impact velocity might have expanded a little less violently on the near quarter and cost me less meat.  Still, it's hard to argue with success.

So, can the 223 Remington be successfully used by whitetail hunters?  I vote Yes, if the correct bullet is used and the hunter can put it where it counts.  In addition to Hornady's fine little GMX there are other .224 bullets intended for use on deer-sized game.  Barnes offers their TSX all-copper bullet in this caliber, in six different weights no less.  If you're not averse to sprinkling your stew meat with lead Nosler makes a 60 grain Partition (which I never had any luck getting to shoot accurately).  The Winchester 64 grain PowerPoint is both affordable and accurate.  Are any of these the right bullet to use on the south end of a north bound monster buck?  No, but when did that sort of shot get to be a good idea anyway?  Should it be used to bag that doe at the other end of the quarter?  No, but I've noticed the hunters who bag their deer reliably tend to do so with shots this side of the 100 yard line anyway.  As for putting the bullet in the right spot, a younger, smaller, or newer hunter might practice more with a rifle that offers only the lightest nudge of recoil and costs but a fraction of larger, noisier, harder-kicking rounds.  More trigger time per dollar and more fun at the range might just result in more success and more new hunters in the woods.

Sometimes just enough is just right.

PS I am reminded that the Soviet-era 7.62x39mm shares many of the same attributes when looking for a light-kicking, deer-capable cartridge that is cheap to shoot.  If anything, its similarity to the 30 WCF make it a better choice.  Unfortunately, other than the SKS carbine, affordable and accurate rifles chambered for it are harder to come by.  

*UPDATE This weekend my niece Kyra is going hunting in Wisconsin.  She's going to use the short-stocked 30-06 Remington and handloaded 130 grain Barnes TSX, again at an estimated 2700 fps.  The day before she tried lighter loads in a rifle that fit she had shot her boyfriend's 30-06 with full power loads and a 243 youth model rifle.  She thought these just enough loads in just the right rifle kicked less than the 243.