Mar 27, 2011

Dragon Leatherworks

Dennis from Dragon Leatherworks got in touch with me last fall about a review model of his "Fugly" holster. He got slowed down on my model by actual paying customers (woohoo!) and it arrived a few weeks ago.

I haven't worn it for any significant length of time just yet, and I'm still writing back and forth with Dennis about things I've noticed/experienced/wondered about.

Construction is unquestionably top-notch and the holster seems to be very comfortable when I've worn it around the house. I haven't had it to the range for practice yet, but hope to in the next week or two.

So - full review pending, but I did want to get this up here - especially since Dragon has a beautiful new site up!

Mar 26, 2011

Solo 9mm

I tend to think Kimber's pistols are overpriced for what they are. Don't get me wrong, the few I've handled are well-finished, but nothing has screamed "four-figure price tag OK!" when handling.

That said, I am in moderate lust with the new Solo 9mm. Single-action striker-fired 9mm ... it looks like a slightly modernized Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless.

I'm waiting to see what the SRP is. (I'm quite happy with the PM9 as my carry piece, but sexy pistols are sexy.)

Mar 25, 2011

Nuke it from orbit...

I've seen a few mentions lately of Vermont's state senate voting to not renew the operating license for Vermont Yankee, their major electricity producer for the state*. It's been hinted that this is because it's a similar design to the Fukushima Daiichi reactor that's having major problems since the earthquake and tsunami played with it.

I could *almost* buy into that. It's the kind of reactionary do-something-itis I've come to expect from the wingnuts of the world.

Fortunately, on this here intertubes, verifying information is easy.

Turns out the senate voted to close VT-Yankee two weeks before the Japan 'quake
, "citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials and other problems." ("Other problems" would include a 2007 collapse of a sluiceway supplying one of the cooling towers.)

I understand the fear of radiation many people have. It's not a topic covered in great depth during any high school class. The concept of something that is invisible, tasteless, odorless, and able to kill you - either dramatically and painfully in the short term, or lingeringly and painfully in the long term - is tough to grasp. Germs? Germs we can see with a decent microscope. We can sanitize, sterilize, wipe down, wash up, and otherwise effectively prevent.

Radiation - not so much. People are afraid because they don't understand it. I will freely admit to a deep-seated unease about radiation. I tense up for something as simple as a dental X-ray, and a CT-scan is simply miserable. ("What if they didn't cover ____? What if the machine malfunctions? What if...?")

Of course, the flip side is - we are a power-hungry society. It has to come from somewhere. Wind power on a large scale is a boondoggle**, hydro requires a reliable high-flow water source, coal/gas/oil are finite resources with dirty byproducts (remember the coal sludge spill in Tennessee?), and biomass is a losing proposition. I believe nuclear power is, at the present time, the only long-term viable option. New plants, in places as carefully sited as possible to avoid environmental hazards. (New Madrid Fault - bad thing...)

* - VT-Yankee produces >70% of the energy in Vermont, but supplies only about 35% of their state usage. Not sure where the balance comes from, other than "the grid".
** - large wind farms are a losing proposition, since they only make power (and therefore money) when the wind is blowing. A small (1-5kW) home set to offset an individual utility bill makes a lot more sense to me.

Mar 24, 2011


"Welcome to MusicTown. May I service you?"

Instead of being told, "You're overqualified, thanks but no thanks!" ... I go in for new employee orientation on Monday evening at Big Blue Home Improvement Store.

The hiring process was simple:
- fill out an application online, with a relatively quick multiple-choice quiz as part of it (If in situation X, is Y or Z the better choice?)
- phone call two days later to schedule an interview
- interview with HR person at store, second interview the next day with an assistant manager
- call a week later to come in for a pre-hire drug test

The interview questions were scripted (as expected for a large company), the people I talked to were quite friendly, and it was about as painless as any hiring process I've ever been through.

Oddly, I *don't* know what department I'll be in yet - the HR person hasn't decided where she wants to put me yet (a lumber manager expressed interest), and corollary to that is not knowing what kind of compensation they're going to offer. I asked for a reasonable rate (about half my hourly rate at the Real Job), and would probably settle for a bit less. I have a firm lower limit in mind, though.

I was impressed with the benefits package for part-time employees, too - optional medical/dental/vision coverage, basic life insurance, 401k with matching (they'll match 1:1 for 3%, .5:1 for another 2%, and .25:1 for 1% more, meaning a total of 4.25% for 6% of my money), and a stock purchase plan, along with employee discounts and paid vacation.

I find it odd that people are griping about how hard it is to find work when it took me less than two weeks to get a second job with benefits available...

Face it, you were a shitty banker anyways.

Mar 23, 2011

Damn The Gun Shop

I sold my .270 today. Friend of a friend as the buyer. Since I didn't have to ship it, I went to $300 for the rifle with an extra mag and a zipper case. Told him what kind of ammo it liked. Took his check, shook hands, and on my way.

Friend who connected us called me four hours later. Buyer's pissed. He went to his gun dealer who told him he got taken because:
- the model is discontinued (True, as is the 1100 and God knows how many other guns over the years.)
- the stock is plastic and will break out around the swivel studs (BS)
- the scope is junk (It's a package 3-9 Bushnell. It's fine for hunting.)
- the magazine release is prone to break (???)
- he could buy a brand-new one through the shop for less than $300

So buyer wants some portion of his money back. I countered with two boxes of factory ammo - about $35-40 worth from Walmart or Dick's. Nope, now he wants to cancel the whole deal.

I just looked around some. A 770 (current version) in .270 can be had on Gunbroker for $290. Plus $25-35 shipping. Plus a $25 transfer fee. No case. Plus $20 for a new magazine. Plus $20 to put on a better recoil pad (I'd replaced the original with an R3). In other words - $370+.

I'm not going to say $300 was the steal of the century, but I do think it was a fair price. If his dealer can actually get him a brand-new 770 for the same price, well, bully for him. I hope it shoots well.

In any case, I had deposited his check while out running errands (before any of this conversation). I told him to sit on the rifle for a week while the check clears, then I'll make the swap back.

This oughta learn me to sell guns...


(FWIW, I am not upset that he wants to cancel the deal. I am upset that the shop is making me out to be some kind of a scammer.)

Mar 21, 2011

Brake Job

The truck has needed some brake work for a while. Nothing critical, just routine maintenance as pads and rotors wear. Last time I had the shop do it, I seem to remember it running almost $400 for front pads and rotors, and that just strikes me as WAY too much. Money is tight for all of us these days, and pinching pennies is how we're going to make it.

Some digging on YouTube and through other sources revealed that this shouldn't be a tough job with the right tools. I called my father and borrowed his impact wrench, buzzed through Tractor Supply for a bottle jack and a couple jack stands, and the auto-parts store for new pads and rotors and a can of cleaner.

Got home, gritted my teeth, and dug in.

I got the calipers off and pads out without trouble. Getting the new pads in? Not so much.

After much grumbling and a few four-letter words, I called my neighbor to ask if he had fifteen minutes to swing by and maybe help.

Turns out the videos online are a good start, but missed a few points.

Once the neighbor pointed out the OTHER two bolts that hold the pad carrier on the piston assembly, and those got separated, it was short work to get things back together.

The first side took me over an hour. The second side took twenty minutes. Pumped the pedal a few times to get pressure back up, and went for a test spin... she had "go", and she (more importantly) had "whoa!"

I learned that my compressor WILL run an impact gun in short bursts. It wasn't designed for it - it doesn't have the flow needed to run a tool full-time - but for my purposes it's just fine.

90 minutes of my time for $250 savings? No brainer.

Mar 18, 2011


MrsZ and I had been talking about getting chickens since we bought the house. Last year, things didn't work out - just too much other stuff going on.

This year, I decided to sort of force the issue (and force myself to build a coop) by ordering chicks.

I went through Tractor Supply and got the pieces I need to start the chicks - a 2x2x4 stock tank to hold them, a foam sheet to put underneath (cellar floor is COLD), a heat lamp, waterer, feeder, pine shavings, and so forth.

Off to Agway and I ordered chicks: 10 mixed bantams (straight run, there will be some culling in our future), 5 Buff Orpingtons, and 5 Barred Rocks. They should be here in about four weeks, so I've got six weeks to get the coop done and still have a couple weeks leeway to make sure things are spaced right.

Now I have to draw plans for the coop and get materials purchased. Fresh eggs by fall!

Mar 14, 2011

Movie Notes: Shooter

Shooter (IMDB page)

Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, and Kate Mara are the leading characters. Based on the novel "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter.

Short form: Former Marine sniper is disillusioned with The System. Recruited from his retirement to help prevent an assassination, then framed for that shooting. Rest of movie: proving innocence and one-man war against The System.

I'll give it 3.5/5. Relatively predictable storyline, but the firearms are generally done well. Things go boom, Wahlberg gives a fair performance, Pena plays a fresh-from-the-academy FBI agent well. Kate Mara's characater seems to be something of an afterthought, but she IS fun to look at.

Definitely some nice hardware - a couple M4s, Remington 700s, a Barrett .50, and a .408CheyTac from Cheyenne Tactical. I did have to chuckle at the nickel-plated M9/FS92, though.

I enjoyed it. Wouldn't object to watching it again, but wouldn't be in a hurry to buy it unless it was under ten bucks.

My biggest gripe - and this is *not* the movie, but in the "making of" extra - is with their firearms "expert". This fellow is a former Marine, and an instructor at a well-known training facility near Las Vegas whose owner is known for being a loudmouth. He tells the camera that "at the range the shot [in the movie] was taken at (2200yd), the bullet would be coming almost straight down on your head", and "what the movie got wrong is the tremendous energy from these weapons at those ranges. Coming straight down on a target like that, the hydrostatic force is unbelievable. Literally, it'll peel you like a banana, we're talking limbs flying 200 feet. I'm glad the movie didn't get that right."

Good lord, man. Please tell me that's not what they're teaching in USMC Sniper School.

One: The .408CT will drop a lot at that range. According to The Anarchangel, 550" at 1500yd - or about 47 feet. He doesn't have full tables, but we can rough-guess it to perhaps 1500" drop at 2200yd. (And those are VERY rough numbers; if someone has real data on the .408CT at distances beyond 1500yd I'd love to see it.) If it's dropping at that rate (2 in/yd), it's a relatively steep arc, but relative to what, and at what distance? Either way, it's certainly not coming "straight down".

Two: "Peel you like a banana". Horse manure. At 1500yd the .408CT has about 3000ft-lb of energy, which will absolutely make a mess of a target like a human head. In fact, said head WILL probably go "splat" like shooting a pop can. But it's not going to peel off skin below the head.

Three: "Limbs flying two hundred feet". Buddy, you need high explosives to do that.

Hollywood, I detest your inaccuracies, but I loathe misinformation coming from an alleged expert. How many guys are going to be sitting at the bar now, saying, "Hey, you hear that JoeBob got him one of them four-oh-eight chee-tacks? Peel a man apart at over a mile, that's gotta be one HELL of a deer rifle. Yep, heard it from a Marine sniper!"

Bottom line: rent the movie, but don't watch the "making of" unless you want to grind your teeth some.

Mar 10, 2011

Truck musing

I have a four-year-old Nissan Frontier Crew Cab. Not fancy. V6, manual transmission, power options, and a tow hitch. No premium sound. No leather. No sunroof. There's a hint of rust starting on the door sill. The tires will need replacing this year. The brakes need some attention.

The bed has accumulated the detritus that seems to be the hallmark of trucks: a broken bungee cord, a double-handful of wet and moldy hay and leaves, a hank of faded nylon rope, an empty soda bottle or two.

There's a ding in the hood from a rock falling off a semi.

A scratch on the bumper from a loose cart.

A scuff in the fender from a close encounter with the garage.

A crease in the quarter panel from another cart. (By the by, please, put your damn carts in the corral.)

A stain on the back seat from a spilled Coke.

There's a bit of a bloodstain on the center console from a bloody sleeve after dressing out a deer.

For all that, though, it's still my truck. Maybe even because of all that.

It doesn't clean up quite like it did when it was new - I washed it weekly and waxed it monthly for a year or so. Now it gets washed a couple times a year, and I pay the car wash another $5 for the wax option.

(Two days after I got it.)

I haven't done much to customize it - I added a toolbox and a few decals. No lift. No new rims. No fancy lights.


It is, unapologetically, a work truck. Sometimes I'd like a bigger truck. A bit more towing capacity, or a little more cab space, or a longer bed.

I looked at the numbers for an F-150 the other day.

I can't park one in my garage.

Guess I'm sticking with a midsize. :-)

Mar 9, 2011

Stupid Simple, Tasty, Healthy

How have I missed out on this for so long?

A couple years ago at an Appleseed, the host made us breakfast in the crockpot. It was a whole-grain hot cereal, but he wouldn't share his recipe.

I decided to take a whack at it today.

1/2c. soft white wheat berries
1/2c. hard red wheat berries
1c. whole oats
5c. water
dash salt
1t. sugar

Bring it all to a boil in a medium saucepan, then cover and simmer until done. 60-75 minutes is about right.


Serve hot with ... anything. A dab of butter, a splash of milk, and either brown sugar or maple syrup is easy and tasty. Add fruit if you like. Or yogurt.

Put the leftovers in the fridge in a sealed container and reheat as needed.

I have a feeling this may become a regular breakfast for me - and the primary destination of whatever grains I buy.

Small World

I had mentioned that I needed to start putting away grain in quantity. I checked a few known suppliers for rough costs, and found that shipping anything resembling a quantity of grain was going to run into stupid money very quickly. (Stupid money: shipping costs significantly more than the grain.)

I've read that some Walmarts carry wheat berries, so I've checked those local to us. No joy. The local hippie market - which I have NEVER set foot into before - does carry wheat berries among other whole grains, to the tune of $1.50/lb or more. Not terrible, but a bit on the high side.

A bit more work found a local granary that supplies both the hippie mart and a local flour mill, and will sell directly to consumers. All their product is certified-organic, which I don't particularly care about either way, but even paying the premium for organic grains is cheaper than paying shipping from a larger mill.

Reading over their web site, I found that one of their suppliers is a farmer whose property I've hunted on nuisance tags for several years. When I went to pick up my order, MrsZ and the girl working turned out to have gone to college together - not close friends, but several classes together.

It's a scary-small world sometimes!

(For the curious: I bought 50# of hard red wheat and 25# of oats for about $75. They are out of soft white wheat until the next harvest, probably July or so. I will continue looking for local and hopefully less-expensive sources.)

Mar 8, 2011

Bean Soup (again)

I realize winter is coming to an end (although by yesterday's weather you'd not have known it), but there's still enough cold left to make bean soup a good thing.

I tossed this together last night. Like most of my cooking, no recipe involved, I just start adding stuff. This takes some time, but it makes a big pot and you'll have plenty of leftovers.

1lb ground meat (I use a venison-plus-bacon-and-garlic that we love for just about anything)
1lb italian sausage, bulk or links
4c. dry beans (a mix of varieties is good, use what you like)
1qt chicken stock
2 medium onions, diced
1c. whole grain (wheat, barley, whatever)
1 can diced tomatoes
3T. minced garlic
olive oil
bay leaves

Rinse the beans well, put them in a large pot with a tablespoon of garlic, two or three bay leaves, and cover with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and put over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stir well, and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until tender - this can take 1-2 hours.

In a small saucepan: Add 2c. water to the 1c. of grain, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and 1/2 tablespoon butter or olive oil. Cover, bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low, and simmer until tender but still chewy (45-50min for wheat berries).

In a large pot: brown the meat and sausage, then add chicken stock and tomatoes. Keep over low heat, covered.

In a skillet over medium heat: saute the onion and remaining garlic in 1-2 tablespoons of butter until the onion is just turning translucent. Put approximately 1/3 of the onions in the simmering beans and the remainder with the meat.

When the beans are cooked to taste, drain and rinse them, then add to the stock and meat. Add the cooked grains without draining. Stir well.

Add 2-4 cups of water to adjust consistency to taste, add salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of thyme, cover, and simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes.

Serve with a good crusty bread.

Stupid Criminal Tricks

"Intruder calls 911, afraid homeowner may have gun"

1) Don't shower in a house you've burglarized.

2) Two German Shepherds beats the heck out of a wet naked burglar any day.

3) Two German Shepherds arguably beats one handgun for pure intimidation.

Mar 6, 2011

Mobile Audio

Every so often I start thinking that a new audio head in the truck would be nice. In particular, one that reads MP3 discs and has a line-in for an iPod.

Then I look at what the options are out there, and I cringe.

See, Nissan did something right with the Frontier's audio system (in '07, I haven't looked at the current models and can't tell from their advertising photos): they made it simple. BIG buttons, and not many. Simple display.

MrsZ's previous car had an aftermarket head in it that drove me NUTS. The buttons were the size of a pencil eraser, and it seemed like the entire face was covered with them. Labeling was in tiny print and not well-lit. It had a very pretty display, though...

We complain about and legislate against "distracted driving" with cell phones and text messaging and so forth - and then "upgrade" our cars with accessories that require a degree to operate. Derp?

(I really do love my truck. It is unapologetically a TRUCK. Easy-clean interiors, big buttons, big knobs, etc.)

Mar 5, 2011


Out of curiousity, I took a look at water heaters in HD recently. Our current heater is a Bock oil-fired monstrosity that's probably about as old as MrsZ. (Old, but does a great job. The water heater, that is.) I asked the tech who fixed it last time what it's going to cost to replace when it dies... north of a thousand dollars. Ouch.

A 40-gallon electric job is $200 at HD. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Then I started looking at details:
Electric: 53gal "first hour" capacity.
Oil: 180gal "first hour".
Electric: 240Vx25A circuit
Oil: Smaller (120Vx20A?)
Electric estimated annual cost: $600
Oil: One fill of oil (~200gal) runs our furnace and water heater *all year*.

And let's not forget the awful amount of sediment in our water, which isn't good for the oil heater but will eat an electric element in nothing flat.

So ... if and when we have to replace the water heater, I expect I'd be willing to put in an electric job - for the bare minimum time it took to save for a replacement oil setup.

Mar 3, 2011

Grain Mills again

I did some more research, and decided the GrainMaker was the right mill for us. Their website notes that there is a price increase coming March 15 due to a major increase in material cost. I called and asked what kind of increase they were talking about. Since it's their business to publish it, I won't, but suffice it to say it's a three-digit number.

They offer a layaway plan, and I asked if they would honor the current price if I ordered for layaway today... and they will.

So, the mill is ordered. Should be here in a few months (i.e., when it's paid off).

Now I've got to get started on putting away grain...

Mar 2, 2011

Flour mills?

MrsZ and I have been toying with the idea of grinding our own flour from whole grains on an as-needed basis. Flavor, nutrition, and the long storage nature of whole grains all sound like a good thing.

There's a local grain supplier that should make acquiring grain for storage a reasonable process, with just a bit of repackaging on this end.

I've done my homework as well as I can, and have narrowed down the realistic choices to the Country Living mill and the GrainMaker mill. I've read the review I can find online, and they generally seem to be on par. Prices are within spitting distance of each other.

So - do any of you have direct hands-on experience with either mill? I'm leaning towards the GrainMaker due to warranty and inclusion of the second auger, but open to suggestions or thoughts.