Communion Of Dreams

Model 2019 Detective Special

a.k.a.: Deckard’s gun from Blade Runner, sold at auction earlier this month for $270,000. From The Firearm Blog:

Bladerunner Blaster-Thumb-550X377-16159

At first glance the gun looks to be some sort of auto-revolver. It is in fact a Steyr Mannlicher .222 Model SL rifle action and trigger group with some revolver parts tacked on. Note the double set trigger and Steyr’s iconic “butter knife” style bolt handle. It even retains the Steyr serial number.

Man, what a piece of movie history. But then, you know I have a weakness for the movie.

Anyway, as mentioned the other day, we launched the revised BBTI late Thursday. Friday and Saturday each day the hits to the site went up by 10x, and we’re now at about 825,000 total. At this rate it should break a million by next Sunday.


It’s good to get this done and off on its own. I still need to do a write up for another firearms site about it this week, but then I’ll mostly be able to leave this project be for a while and devote my attention to other matters, including a not small pile of conservation work awaiting my attention.

But it’s good to be busy.

Jim Downey

Six months ago.
May 28, 2009, 11:28 pm
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Science

Six months ago we launched Ballistics By The Inch. And since then we’ve had over 770,000 hits, one major magazine article, and coverage & discussion of the site in countless gun forums & blogs around the globe. When I have checked the stats for the site, I have never failed to be impressed with just how widely it has become known.

Well, tonight we posted a major upgrade to the whole site. This includes three additional caliber ‘chop tests’, but it also includes data collected from testing over 40 additional “real world” guns – including a baker’s dozen carbine-length guns. This data has been separated out into a new series of graphs for easy comparison. All together, there are now over 150 graphs showing ballistic performance – along with all the charts giving numerical averages for each 1″ increment in barrel length for 16 different calibers. And for the true data junkies, there are downloadable files (in two formats) for the entire sequence of initial tests, and another set for the second round of testing done in April 2009.

Like the initial project, this major upgrade and revision has been a huge job – and one only made possible by a lot of work from several individuals. Yes, there were the three of us testers from the original project. But there was also the addition of a fourth tester this time around who helped us gather & operate all those ‘real world’ guns, and I would like to welcome Keith to our team. But I would especially like to thank my good lady wife for all the html coding & design for our website – both the last time and with this major revision. Quite literally, none of this would have been available without her hard work.

There will probably be minor tweaks and additions to the site in the coming months and years. We still have some ideas of data which might be of interest to the gun community. But for now we hope that you will enjoy and make use of the data provided, and help to spread the word to others who may be interested.


Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)

May 26, 2009, 9:35 am
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings, Publishing, Writing stuff

As I mentioned the other day in the preface to this post, I had reason to be digging around in some of my old writings. I’m still not in a position to disclose the full reason for this, but I can discuss it in general terms: I had been interviewed for a feature article for a national magazine (I am not the focus of the piece, just one aspect of it), and something I had written previously was pertinent to the background I had provided the interviewer.

Anyway, it was a thorough and rather draining interview, not unlike some of the others to which I have been party in my somewhat offbeat course through life. Nor, in fact, to some of the interviews I have conducted, when I was writing my column for the local paper. So it was that I recognized this insightful passage from a recent item at the Economist:

Mr Rauch: This ties back to your last question, in a way. I suspect a lot of bloggers may be introverts, because blogging is great if you like to sit in front of the internet all day. If not for my aversion to specialising in one subject, I probably would have been an academic historian, because I think it would have suited me to work in libraries back before there was an internet. (In a way, the internet is a library that talks back.) Reporting doesn’t come naturally to me, since I have to screw up my energy level every time I pick up the phone. So that’s something of a handicap. I’ll never be a natural journalist.

On the other hand, introverts are good questioners and attentive listeners. After a thoughtful, probing interview that I feel has touched marrow, I feel exhilaration, along with exhaustion. As if a tough hike had been rewarded with a new vista. I’m not a great hiker but I do enjoy the views.

Very apt metaphor.

Jim Downey

(Economist link via Sully.)

May 25, 2009, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Art, Humor

Man, maybe it is just me, but I found this hilarious.

Via Balloon Juice.

Jim Downey

Cross posted to UTI.


For reasons I’ll discuss sometime later, I was digging around in some of my old archive writings this afternoon. And I came across an essay which was intended to be a companion piece to an op-ed I had written for the St. Louis Post Dispatch about 16 years ago (they declined to run it). It’s curious to see how little my opinions have changed in the interim, but also how what I had to say then was somewhat predictive to how things have actually played out, here and elsewhere around the nation. For this reason, I thought I would share it here.

Jim Downey

Cross posted to the BBTI blog.



Recently, I had a column here concerning the radical NRA leadership, and the danger that their attitude of ‘anything goes’ with weapons and ammunition poses to police, federal agents, and the average American. So it may come as a bit of a surprise that I favor legislative efforts to allow most people to carry a concealed firearm.

I do not see a contradiction here. What the NRA leadership is doing to demonize and discredit law enforcement makes us all less safe. Having more law-abiding citizens trained in the safe handling of firearms, and duly licensed to carry those firearm for self defense, would make us more safe. Sure, the ideal solution would be to rid society of all firearms, or at least all handguns. But that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, with a huge number of firearms already in private hands. Certainly, the criminals aren’t going to give up their weapons. And a crime-fearing public doesn’t want to relinquish their guns, though they rarely carry them in violation of current law.

A concealed-carry law would change the calculus of crime in a very fundamental way.

The calculus of crime is pretty straight-forward: people will turn to crime when they feel that the chances of reward are greater than the risks. Of course, how risk is estimated depends on what one has to lose. If a person has few options other than crime (either in reality or in perception), the threshold of acceptable risk is lower, and the incentive to turn to crime is greater.

There are a number of ways of affecting this equation. A strong moral incentive to not commit crime raises the level of risk. If you believe that you face a final judgement before an omniscient deity, you know that you cannot escape the consequences of committing a crime. Or if violating what you believe to be ‘right’ makes you uncomfortable, the rewards are diminished, and you are less inclined to resort to crime.

A greater probability of being caught and convicted by the criminal justice system likewise raises the threshold of risk. More police, wider law enforcement powers, and mandatory sentences are all efforts in this direction.

A high standard of living raises the threshold of risk (since the potential criminal has more to lose). Attempts to reduce poverty, provide job training, and give people opportunity and hope are based on this part of the equation.

Reducing the incentive also makes sense. This is one of the major premises behind arguments to legalize (and control and tax) some drugs. Legalization would greatly reduce the profit potential for dealers, and keep prices down for addicts, so that they wouldn’t have to turn to crime to support their habit.

These are all general, society-wide efforts. Businesses also tend to employ the same principles. Tighter inventory and accounting control reduce the threat of loss through employee theft and embezzelment, alarms and similar security systems are aimed at stopping burglary, and keeping a limited amount of cash on premises reduces the potential reward to a criminal.

Likewise, individuals apply the same understanding, whether we do so consciously or not. We are more nervous when we are carrying a large sum of cash, because we know that this increases the potential reward to a robber. We avoid dark alleys because this lowers the threshold of risk for the criminal, since there is less chance of that criminal being caught and convicted by the criminal justice system.

If concealed-carry laws were in effect, and a significant number of people availed themselves of such permits, this would also change the equation at both the individual and societal level. The threshold of risk to the criminal would rise. Instead of being relatively assured that a law-abiding (and hence unarmed) victim would be unable to respond to a threat of violence, the criminal would have to consider what the chances were that a likely victim would not only be armed, but trained in the proper use of a firearm.

Training would be the key. The military (and a number of states which already allow citizens to carry concealed firearms) have training regimens designed to teach people how to safely use and care for their weapons, when it is appropriate to use them, and what the ramifications of use are. Completing and passing such a training regimen, including periodic qualification on a shooting range, would be necessary to obtain a permit to carry.

And the weapon to be used would need to be licensed. A sample of that weapon’s unique ballistic profile could be put on file for future reference. Carrying a weapon not so licensed should be grounds for immediate revocation of the permit to carry. And there should be draconian punishments for carrying a weapon without the proper permit and training. Police should have broadened rights to search for a concealed weapon using hand-held metal detectors or other new scanning equipment.

What about crimes of passion? Wouldn’t adding more firearms, having them even more handy, increase the number of this variety of murders?

I don’t think so. There are already more than 100 million firearms in this country. Allowing people to carry a small fraction of that number would not increase the risk much. In fact, because of the requirement of training in the safe handling and proper use of concealed weapons, this risk might very well drop.

The experience in those states which have had concealed-carry laws on the books for a few years indicates that there are very few instances of improper use by citizens who hold such permits. And while it is difficult to establish the causal connection directly, the data also suggests that those states have experienced a drop in crime rates greater than the drop in the national average.

Lastly, allowing citizens who have a background clean of criminal activity and mental health problems to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon would do more than just change the calculus of crime. It would shift responsibility. The police really cannot protect us from predators. Often, the most they can do is be there after the fact, to help pick up the pieces of a shattered society, and to try and locate the perpetrators of a crime. A citizen who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon is empowered, with at least some greater control over his or her own fate in the face of crime. This is why many women have sought and obtained permits to carry in those states where such permits are legal.

A concealed-carry law would not be a panacea, any more than any of the other efforts to affect the calculus of crime have been a panacea. But a concealed-carry law could make a significant difference, and it is high time that we give our citizens the tools and training to protect themselves.

“Try Sporting Goods.”
May 21, 2009, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Humor, Kurt Vonnegut

Since we’ve had a bit of a dry spell, this weekend I’ll be able to finally get my garden planted. In preparation for that, this morning I ran out to get the additional items I needed to supplement what I had ordered in. This included half a dozen additional tomato and pepper plants, some organic fertilizer, and deer netting. Yeah, this year I decided to try deer netting rather than conventional fencing. To try and avoid problems with birds getting entangled in it, I will be lacing some white twine through the netting at several levels.

Anyway, because I needed to pick up some other items at the nearby Wal*Mart (and yes, their new logo does remind me of Vonnegut’s depiction of an anus), I thought I would see if they had any deer netting before I ran out to a nursery where I knew I could find it. I wandered back into the lawn & garden section of the store, where I found a bored cashier flirting with some stocker.

“Hi! Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I need to get some deer netting. Do you have any?”

She looked confused, glanced at the stocker. He shook his head. She looked back with me and brightly said “No, sorry, we don’t have anything like that. Try Sporting Goods.”

I could barely contain my laughter as I walked out.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Been busy.

Sorry I’ve been busy and not writing as much here – I’ve been juggling a number of things all at once, some of which has sucked up a lot of my creative energy. A partial list:

Getting work done on the major upgrade for BBTI (check out this post on the blog!)

More work on the Caregiving book – I think we’ve now finished with all the material we’ve written about the experience previously, as well as a lot of ‘primary source’ material (emails, LiveJournal entries, et cetera). Gathering and selecting all of this has been a significant task, as well as a powerfully emotional one. Now that all that is together, we need to switch gears and go through it all with an eye to tweaking and editing – another big job.

Have another iron in the fire related to some local/neighborhood politics and personal stuff that has sucked up a fair amount of energy.

Trying to get back on my feet with my conservation work, as well, of course.

And then there’s the necessary (and enjoyable) parts of living in an old house with a big yard and a garden – it’s that busy time of year for such things.

And that’s a partial list. Have some other things going on that are entirely speculative, not to mention the usual day-to-day stuff of living and owning your own business.

But you know, it feels pretty good.


Jim Downey

Mannahatta Project.
May 17, 2009, 9:56 am
Filed under: Climate Change, Science, tech

Just a brief post this morning to pass on this:

Mannahatta Project Recreates What New York City Looked Like 400 Years Ago

* * *

Included was a map from 1782, when the British occupied New York during the Revolutionary War. It is an incredibly detailed and accurate map, showing brooks, hills, marshes, forests and streets. Features were sketched with pen and ink, then hand-colored with blue, pink, brown and green watercolor.

It is an invaluable window into long-ago Manhattan, a Manhattan that already was ecologically altered by European immigrants, but nothing like the massive changes that would come with the 19th and 20th centuries.

What if, Sanderson immediately wondered, he was to use his landscape ecology skills and layer that map over a modern map of Manhattan? Could he get them to mesh? Would he be able to discern if today’s Times Square was once meadow or marsh, wet or wooded? What was Greenwich Village long ago? What, in fact, did Manhattan look like 400 years ago, when Henry Hudson sailed past Manhattan on a September day?

The result can be found here: The Mannahatta Project.

Jim Downey

(Hat tip to ML!)

Rebinding a 1518 copy of Ovid.
May 16, 2009, 8:21 am
Filed under: BoingBoing, Book Conservation

Last week I worked on rebinding a 1518 printing of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Since the client wanted to have it done in a limp vellum binding – which I don’t get to do that often – and the book itself is significant, I thought I would take some photos of the process and write the whole thing up. It’s now posted on my business site, but here’s a taste:

First, I removed the 19th century covers, cleaned the spine of old adhesive, and dis-assembled the book.  Then I created strips of alum-tawed pigskin of the appropriate length, and put a single slit in the middle of each through which the sewing could be done using linen thread.  As the strips were stiff and free-standing, there was no need to support them in a sewing frame as would be done with cord.

Sewing progressed using the original sewing stations (where the holes were poked in the folios) until completed.

The whole thing, with a lot more photos, is available here.

Just thought you might enjoy seeing a bit of what I do professionally.

Jim Downey

edited to add: Hey, cool – got a link off of BoingBoing!

And now even the blue got me. Very cool.

“We’re not at war with people in this country.”
May 15, 2009, 10:23 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Failure, Government, Privacy, Reason, Society, Terrorism, Violence

A friend sent me this Wall Street Journal article yesterday:

White House Czar Calls for End to ‘War on Drugs’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

OK, that’s not the same thing as actually changing drug policy, but how you say something matters a lot. As Radly Balko says:

The drug war imagery started by Nixon, subdued by Carter, then ratcheted up again in the Reagan administration (and remaining basically level since) has had significant repercussions on the way drug policy is enforced, from policymakers on down to street-level cops. It’s war rhetoric that gave us the Pentagon giveaway program, where millions of pieces of surplus military equipment (such as tanks) have been transferred to local police departments. War imagery set the stage for the approximately 1,200 percent rise in the use of SWAT teams since the early 1980s, and has fostered the militaristic, “us vs. them” mentality too prevalent in too many police departments today.

War implies a threat so existential, so dire to our way of life, that we citizens should be ready to sign over some of our basic rights, be expected to make significant sacrifices, and endure collateral damage in order to defeat it. Preventing people from getting high has never represented that sort of threat.

The “War on (Some) Drugs” was never really about controlling drug abuse. It was about controlling people, particularly those people who could be easily demonized to give politicians a nice boost amongst their white, middle-class base. It helped to cement the allegiance of local pols and police departments, who got lots of new toys to play with at no cost (local cost, that is), and gave them more power. It eroded our civil rights and constitutional freedoms, and helped to set the stage for further intrusions when the “War on Terror” came along.

Getting rid of the “War” rhetoric doesn’t solve the problems with abuse of authority, but it does help to redefine the relationship a bit. It is a necessary first step in reclaiming some of our freedoms. Let’s hope that it is the first of many.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)