Communion Of Dreams

I needed this today.
November 30, 2009, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Humor, YouTube

Jim Downey

What a long, strange year it’s been . . .
November 27, 2009, 10:26 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, Science

(Cross posted from the BBTI blog.)

One year ago this evening, we sent out the preliminary version of Ballistics By The Inch to a few friends. That day we had a total of 146 hits to the site. Within days, we were getting tens of thousands of hits.

And since then, we’ve had a total of 1,572,698.

When we first started talking about doing this, Jim Kasper had a hard time believing that more than a few thousand people would be interested in our project. I figured that it would be popular, but I never really expected this level of interest. And I would like to say thanks to everyone who has posted on their favorite gun forum about our project, or sent a note to a friend about it, and thereby helped to spread the word. We’ve had some good press along the way: Dark Roasted Blend gave us a link the first week the site was up, The Firearm Blog not only did a post in those first few days, but Steve graciously covered our “2.0” version earlier this year when we added three more calibers and a bunch of real world guns. In April 2009 Concealed Carry Magazine had a nice piece about the project. Ammoland covered it in June. Just recently I had a great interview with Doc Wesson at the Gun Nation Podcast.

We’ve been Stumbled Upon, discussed on The High Road and The Firing Line, chatted about in the Defensive Carry forum, talked about on Glock Talk, referenced on the Survival Blog, cited on, and occasionally found to be Something Awful.

In all honesty, it is no longer possible for me to keep track of all of the places where BBTI has been mentioned around the globe, or even keep tally on the languages used to discuss our project. And I can only imagine how it will continue to propagate. Particularly since we’re not stopping here.

What do I mean? Well, plans are already underway for new tests in the coming year, and we’ve begun to discuss amongst ourselves what else we would like to try to tackle in the future. First, what is already well in the planning & preparation stage:

Announcing the Cylinder Gap Test!

We’ve had a Single Action Army clone in .357 magnum modified to allow for adjusting the barrel position from a standard 0.006″ to 0.001″ to no gap (barrel snug against the cylinder). We have a dozen or so different ammunition loads in .38/.357, and we’ll be essentially repeating the BBTI procedure for each of these, with the normal gap then the minimum gap then without any gap, starting with an 18″ barrel and going down in increments of one inch to just 1″ . Actually, one slight difference – to make sure we get a better statistical sample, we’ll be firing 10 (ten) rounds of each type of ammunition at each point rather than just 3 (three) as we did with the BBTI tests. Because we are limiting this test to just one caliber, we thought this was a reasonable step to take. We hope that this will allow us to conclude with some actual data what the effect of having a cylinder gap in a revolver actually amounts to.

We’ll probably be conducting these tests in the spring of 2010, and if past experience is any guide will have the new data sets available on the BBTI site sometime a couple of months later. We’ll keep you posted!

Other testing ideas for further down the line include an interest in obtaining objective measurements (using equipment and protocols which anyone can repeat fairly easily) for both muzzle flash and ‘felt recoil’. And, of course, we’ve also discussed expanding our standard BBTI tests to include rifle cartridges and rimfire cartridges, since these questions come up all the time. But we’ll see what the future holds.

Again, thanks to one and all who helped make the Ballistics By The Inch project a phenomenal success over the past year. Hard to believe we’ve gone as far as we have.

Jim Downey

Putting things in perspective.

Happy Thanksgiving, to my American friends.

Perhaps thinking about giving thanks, and the question of my perspective from this vantage point in life, is what made this post from the Bad Astronomer pop out in my reading this morning. It’s about a scale model of the solar system hosted on the web. From the site:

This page shows a scale model of the solar system, shrunken down to the point where the Sun, normally more than eight hundred thousand miles across, is the size you see it here. The planets are shown in corresponding scale. Unlike most models, which are compressed for viewing convenience, the planets here are also shown at their true-to-scale average distances from the Sun. That makes this page rather large – on an ordinary 72 dpi monitor it’s just over half a mile wide, making it possibly one of the largest pages on the web.

Just for reference, the image of the Sun on my monitor is about 6″ diameter. Yeah, Pluto is a speck about 6,000x the diameter of the Sun away.

I love these sorts of things which convey the notion of deep distance (similar to the concept of deep time). One of these days I’d like to make it to Sweden to see the Sweden Solar System, which uses the Globe arena to represent the Sun, with Pluto a sphere about 5″ in diameter almost 200 miles away.

This question of scale – of the deep distance from one planet to another here in our solar system – is one which I tried to deal with honestly in writing Communion of Dreams. It’s why it takes over a week for the researchers sent out from Earth to reach Saturn (Well, Titan, actually) even using a constant thrust of about one-third gravity, and why there is a time-lag in radio communications of about 90 minutes (yeah, I researched not just the average distances between the planets, but where they would be in their respective orbits on the dates in the book – as well as what the intermediate time lag would be en route at various points). Which presented a problem in the writing – what to do with the characters in the book during this period? Which, in turn, is what I think made the readers at the publisher feel that the book moved too slowly in the first half.

Well, I still haven’t heard back from the publisher about the revisions I sent (and I didn’t expect to yet), so I don’t know whether I was able to address this concern adequately with the changes I made. And once I do hear, I expect that my perspective on the matter will change – as it always does, after the fact. Such is life. Such is the universe.*

Again, Happy Thanksgiving.

Jim Downey

*Thanks, JB.

Gimme that ol’ time surveillance!
November 25, 2009, 11:49 am
Filed under: ACLU, Civil Rights, Government, NPR, Politics, Predictions, Privacy, Science, Society, tech

And the march of progress continues:

‘Insecurity Cameras’ To Track All Of Town’s Traffic

A little town in California has a big and controversial idea: It wants to install security cameras on roads leading into town so that it can screen and record every license plate that comes inside city limits. The plan could effectively turn Tiburon into perhaps the nation’s first public gated community.

* * *

“Tiburon is unusual because there are only two roads going in and out of the town,” says Mayor Alice Fredericks.

It’s quite easy, she says, to keep track of every car along those two roads. Last week, the Town Council decided to spend $200,000 to place six security cameras at strategic points along the road. For now, the plan is to make sure none of the cars coming into town are stolen. Crime statistics are low in Tiburon, but in a small town, Fredericks says, even a few crimes make an impact.

* * *

Police run license-plate checks all the time, says Jennifer King, an expert in technology and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Tiburon’s plan is to just run many plate checks. The problem, she says, is that once the equipment is installed, safeguards to protect privacy can change. For instance, the license plate information is supposed to be purged after eight hours, but what if a crime occurs and suddenly that information becomes more important?

“They may start today by keeping it eight hours, but I’ll almost bet you that what they’ll find is that somebody will come back and go, ‘If only we had the data from those cameras,'” she says. “We call it ‘scope creep’ in the technology world. That scope can really crawl, really grow very quickly.”

Nah, that’d never happen, would it? I mean, the police would never seek to use the collected data in an inappropriate or unethical fashion, would they?

Police routinely arresting people to get DNA, inquiry claims

Police officers are now routinely arresting people in order to add their DNA sample to the national police database, an inquiry will allege tomorrow.

The review of the national DNA database by the government’s human genetics commission also raises the possibility that the DNA profiles of three-quarters of young black males, aged 18 to 35, are now on the database.

* * *

The crime and security bill published last week by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, proposes to keep DNA profiles of people arrested but not convicted of any offence on the database for six years. This follows a landmark European court judgment last December, ruling illegal the current blanket policy of indefinite retention of DNA profiles whether or not the person has been convicted of an offence.

It adds that parliament never formally debated the establishment of the DNA database. Its evolution involved a “function creep” from being used to confirm police suspicions to identifying suspects. This resulted in the addition of more and more profiles without being clearly matched by an improvement in convictions.

Gods, what are people thinking? In my own hometown there is once again an effort to put “security cameras” in place in our downtown area, a subject I have written about previously. Last spring our City Council decided to put a stop to it, but proponents have gathered enough signatures to now have the matter put on the ballot for a special election next year. It’s like the damned “red light cameras” which cost more than they’re worth, do not lead to improved safety at intersections, and just decrease everyone’s privacy.

But hey, they make people feel good, right? And all that matters is good security theatre, not actual security. Don’t scare the sheep, or they’ll panic and run.

Jim Downey

PS: since I’ve been told that sometimes I need to be less subtle, let me be bloody obvious – I chose the title intentionally. Yes, I think that religion and the perceived need for security theatre come from the same source: that reassurance that someone else is watching over you to make sure you are safe. What else is the Abrahamic God but a paranormal surveillance system?

(Cross posted to UTI.)

OK, that’s it.
November 23, 2009, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Failure, Humor, Music, Religion, YouTube

OK, that’s it. I give up. There really must be something to this “religion” thing. Because clearly, I am in HELL. That is the only explanation for such a video as this:

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi. Cross posted to UTI.)

This is better.
November 22, 2009, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Astronomy, MetaFilter, Science, Science Fiction, Space

This is better than it might seem at first:

Back from a weekend jaunt to the wilds of darkest Iowa. Will pick up the thread of things before too much longer.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

November 20, 2009, 9:16 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Emergency, Health

“You guys are really good with him,” said the ER nurse.

* * * * * * *

The knock came at the back door as I was finishing my first cup of coffee. It was a neighbor two doors down.

“Jim, Ray’s fallen, and I need help to get him up,” he said, somewhat breathless from the quick walk over to our house.

Ray’s another neighbor, and an old family friend. He and Martha Sr shared a birthday, though he was five years older. This makes him 97. He’s been on his own for a while now, his wife having passed (he cared for her up until the final months of her life – she had Alzheimer’s) and his family long since scattered. But he was doing fine – spry, mental faculties still very sharp, and he would always consult with me on how my tomatoes were doing, offering his vastly greater experience what I should do for this or that minor problem. My wife and I, and the other neighbors, all kept an eye on him, and his family would call him a couple of times a day to keep track of how he was doing. Which is exactly what he wanted – he was adamant that he could continue to be on his own, in the house where he’d lived for 60 years.

I didn’t wait. I quickly headed out the door and across the yard, pulling out my mobile and calling my wife as I did so.

* * * * * * *

For some months now, I have been #4.

#4 on Ray’s speed-dial, that is. We set it up some time back, and tested it fairly regularly. Because though Ray was doing really well, recently he’d started having some problems with his balance. Reluctantly, he had started using a cane, then a walker. But he kept his phone with him at all times, because if something happened and he lost his balance, he wanted to have the ability to call me if he needed help getting back up or was injured.

And after his needing to call me a couple of times in the last month, I had taken to being more careful to make sure I always had my phone with me, that it was on. Recently I found myself checking it frequently, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally muted it, in case Ray called and I missed it.

This was a familiar feeling, an ingrained response. It was like always making sure I had the monitor with me while I was taking care of Martha Sr.

* * * * * * *

“Martha, I’m going over to Ray’s. He’s fallen in his bedroom, may be hurt.” Our other neighbor, the one who came to get me, has a heart condition. If I needed to move Ray or anything, I needed my wife.

“I’ll be right there.”

I went in the back door, through the house to the bedroom. Ray was there. He’d fallen, had hit his head on the corner of a small table. There was blood, but not a lot, and it was dried. He had been there a while, possibly overnight. He was conscious, and recognized me. “Oh, good, Jim – help me up.”

I quickly checked him over, asked him some questions about whether he hurt anywhere. But his answers were somewhat confused – moreso than usual. Whether from the blow to his head, or as a result of something else, I couldn’t tell.

“Help me up, Jim.”

Sorry, Ray, not this time.

My wife got there, she knelt down and did the same quick assessment I did. She looked at me, and knew what I was thinking. I handed her my phone. “Call an ambulance.”

She left the room and did so. I stayed with Ray, holding his hand. He was insistent that he didn’t need an ambulance, but he was otherwise not making sense about what had happened or how long he had been down.

There comes a point in time in dealing with someone who is in this condition when you have to make the decision as to whether you are willing to ruin your relationship with them in order to make sure they get the proper care. This is what keeps many family members from taking away the car keys of a parent, or getting them into a nursing home. For me, it was an easy choice in this case. I liked and respected Ray, valued his friendship, but he needed professional medical care.

* * * * * * *

Martha rode in the ambulance with Ray. I came home, changed clothes, grabbed something to eat, then went to the hospital. We stayed with him there in the ER through the rest of the day, along with his nephew that lives here in town. They did tests, CAT scans, all the usual things. This and that doctor came in, consulted, did their best to communicate with him. We helped, talking with him loudly until I went back to his house and got his hearing aid, but mostly we were just there to be friendly faces.

Ray stabilized, and his confusion cleared up, but there were reasons why they wanted to keep him there for observation.

This was not news Ray wanted to hear. It took a lot of convincing that it needed to be done before he finally relented. We stayed with him until they got him settled into his own room.

It is never easy to be in an ER for a long time. Late afternoon, while they were doing something with him which required a bit of privacy, Martha and I were standing outside the room, next to the nurses’ station. We were both tired, and no doubt looked it. The nurse there at the desk looked up at us. “You guys are really good with him.”

We nodded. “We’ve got a lot of experience – we cared for my wife’s mother – Alzheimer’s – until she died last year. Ray’s an old friend.”

“You guys are really good with him,” she repeated, “that experience shows.”

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Post Script: one of Ray’s daughters got into town last night. She had planned on coming in for Thanksgiving, anyway, and they were going to spend some time looking to find a good assisted care facility for him while she was here. Ray had come to the conclusion that the time had come to take this step. It was just bad timing that this accident happened when it did.

Well, that was fun!
November 19, 2009, 8:54 pm
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Civil Rights, Constitution, Guns, RKBA

Cross posted from the BBTI blog.

More “it’s all about ME ME ME !!!” . . .

Had a nice interview with Doc Wesson on the Gun Nation Podcast, runs about 45 minutes in the first section of a great two-part show. We talk about a lot of different aspects of the Ballistics By The Inch project, and related topics. The whole show is definitely worth listening to, but the bit with me starts at about the 15:00 mark in part one, if you want to skip over that bit.

No, seriously, if you get a chance, put The Gun Nation into your queue of good things to listen to. In the interview I give some hints about future tests we want to conduct, and Doc manages to tease out of me some of my own conclusions about carry ammo I haven’t previously discussed.

Jim Downey

RKBA – the education of a liberal
November 17, 2009, 10:27 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Daily Kos, Guns, Politics, RKBA

(Cross posted to dKos, but thought some here may find it interesting. JD)

One of the guiding principles of my life, and my politics, is that education makes a difference.  Not just to give people the tools they need to succeed in life, but to also help improve our society through the reduction of fear.  Because all too often, fear springs from ignorance.  It can be ignorance of science.  Or ignorance of other cultures.  Or ignorance of sexuality.  Or ignorance of firearms, which is my topic for today.

For years I have tried to tell other gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters that the single most effective thing they could do to insure continued support for the 2nd Amendment is to take new people shooting.  And preferably, to take someone who is liberal/progressive.  Don’t talk politics.  Don’t argue over this or that candidate.  Just take people out to the range, and give them a safe and relaxed introduction to shooting.

It’s easier for me, because my liberal and progressive friends know that I am on their side.  I don’t have a macho attitude, I’m intelligent and well educated, I understand quite well that things are complex and simple solutions are suspect.  In other words, I’m about like every Kossack who isn’t a troll.

When introducing someone new to shooting, I will first go over the safety issues.  Explain the four rules of firearm handling (this without even opening the gun cases yet.) Take out and hand around eye protection (unless they are already wearing glasses with safety lenses.  Take out and hand around hearing protection (I prefer the newer electronic type which allows for full normal hearing, but shuts off with loud noises.  I keep a couple extra pairs of these in my range bag so they can always hear me talking to them.)  Then we will discuss the particular range where we’re shooting, and any additional safety issues which pertain to it (actually, I’m lucky in that I have private land where I can go which has an ideal set-up for short-range shooting).

Only then will I take out the first gun, carefully explain how the “four rules” apply specifically to it.  Then I will set it aside, locked open, no ammo in sight.  I will do the same thing with each of the usually 6-8 guns I bring along, explaining what they are and how they function, how the “rules” apply specifically to handling them.

Then we’ll start.  I always prefer to start with just a .22 rifle.  If someone has done shooting at camp or in school, chances are that they were using a .22 rifle of some sort.  I go over once again how the “four rules” apply.  How the gun operates.  How to hold it.  How to aim (though accuracy isn’t important at this stage – just gaining a safe familiarity with guns is all I want to accomplish.)  Only after we’ve been over all of this do I break out the ammunition – and then just one round.  I’ll go over how to load the gun, once again how to operate it, and how to hold it.  After answering any questions, and checking that everyone has their eye and hearing protection in place, then I will fire the gun, demonstrating the recoil and report from it.  With a .22, neither is really noticeable, and it provides a good introduction to the whole idea of shooting.

If anyone has any questions at this point, I’ll answer them.  Then I’ll make safe the rifle, hand it to the first student (I prefer to only teach one or two people a trip – three max.)  Make sure they understand how to hold it, how it operates.  Then I will get out one more round of ammunition, and either help them load the gun, or load it for them.  When they are ready, and comfortable, I walk them through the process of aiming and firing the gun, just gently squeezing the trigger.  When it goes off, there is almost invariably a bit of a squeal of joy or laughter from the shooter.  And that is one of the best sounds in the whole world.

Sounds tedious?  It isn’t really.  I just do it in a very thorough and slow manner, taking my time.  Because to the person who has never handled or shot a gun before, it can be very scary.  Showing that guns can be safely handled, and even fun, is worth a bit of time.

We’ll shoot the .22 rifle a few more times.  I’ll let the student gain some level of comfort in loading and shooting the gun on their own, even allowing them to load two or three rounds into the magazine, so that they can shoot it multiple times without stopping to reload.

Then we’ll move on.  We’ll go from the .22 rifle to a .22 revolver, then a .22 semi-automatic, each time going over all the steps outlined above, always ALWAYS stressing the four rules of gun safety and how they apply to each firearm.  It depends on how much time we have (I usually like to allot about three hours – that’s long enough to tire out most people new to shooting), and what guns I’ve brought, but we’ll progress from smaller caliber guns to larger ones, as the student wants.  I usually have up to a .44 magnum – a large frame gun that is actually quite comfortable to shoot with “special” loads in it.  But it hasn’t always been so – you can go with whatever you have.  After we’ve gone through all the guns once, I give my friend a chance to go back and shoot anything that they want, once again going over the handling of that specific gun for safety.

When we’re done, I will pack up everything securely, as I answer questions.  It isn’t often that anyone “gets hooked” on shooting sports – it does happen, and I always tell them that if they want to go shooting again, I will be happy to provide everything.  But that wasn’t my goal.  My goal was to show that guns, while potentially dangerous, can be handled safely and sanely.  To de-mystify them, turn them from an object to be feared to a tool which is understood.  Once that happens, my liberal friends may or may not change their mind about the 2nd Amendment – but at least they will now be more informed of the issues involved.  And over time, I have found that most of the people I have taught have become much more willing to see the matter from my perspective.

Jim Downey

The first step.
November 12, 2009, 9:51 pm
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech, TED

Ah, yes, the first step into an integrated “expert” technology such as I envisioned for CoD:

Fascinating. And just about right on time.

Jim Downey

(Via BB.)