Odd-Shaped Niches

I was visiting friends in their new-to-them house. They’d already done a number of needed updates and improvements. All older houses need something, especially when the former owner has lived there for a handful of decades or so. One of my friends opened the pantry door and said, “Eventually we’ll shift some of this around. And there’s this.”

A waist-high, narrow, nondescript door covered something just beside the pantry door’s hinges and frame. My friend opened the little door and revealed a shallow space that would be almost invisible unless someone really looked for it.

“Shotgun cubby,” another friend stated. “A relative had one.”

The idea makes perfect sense. These houses were in the country back when they were built, and coyotes, rabid skunks, and other things posed a serious problem. As did the possibility of two-footed predators. Those who needed to know where the shotgun was would know. Other people would be distracted by the canned goods and other pantry things, and given the dimmer indoors light back then, would probably never see the shotgun cubby’s door. It’s a great concept, because what woman wouldn’t retreat toward the kitchen, a place she knew well? And intruders would probably assume that she’d go to the bedroom and the shotgun or pistol there, but the kitchen? Mostly harmless.

I’ve been in a few other houses like that, where an oddly shaped or located door reveals an excellent idea. I’d love to have a shotgun cubby, or handgun drawer, in my office. Lockable would also be good, although at the moment that’s not as great a concern as before (no small people who open things they shouldn’t.) Or it held a certain size of canned goods, one that’s not made now. I saw one kitchen that had a hundred small pegs, like cup-holders but too many of them. The home-owner, the great-granddaughter of the man who built the house, smiled and said, “Canning rings.” When not needed, the rings hung on the pegs. If you looked closely, there were differences in the distance between the rings, top to bottom, for quart and gallon sizes. As cans got used, the rings went on the pegs so they weren’t lost. Brilliant!

RedQuarters has a small door in a hallway by my office. A nondescript square with trim that matches the rest of the molding in that part of the house opens to reveal plumbing. It’s an access hatch for cleaning out a trap and checking fittings. Someone decided they didn’t want to ruin the wall and so made a nice little door instead of leaving the wall plain.


Wise Choices

The word went out a few weeks ago that the buddy system and security would now be in effect after evening rehearsals. Potential trouble had been observed on the property, as had an unwelcome presence, and so security was increased. Those of us who prefer to go armed have mostly been doing so already, but now we are even more aware of the need for heightened situational awareness. Which is unfortunate, because this has never, ever been needed before, but things have changed and not for the better.

Some group members prefer not to go armed. One is a Quaker and a vehement pacifist who knows the possible results of that philosophy. Another has a medical problem that affects fine motor control, making the use of power tools, knives, and other tools somewhat hazardous. Others trust the security presence to prevent the need to personally deal with danger. I don’t necessarily agree, but all these people know the possible effects of their choices and are willing to live with them.

Wisdom and knowledge are different things. It’s been a long-standing rule in certain tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, that you can have a character be very, very smart but not wise. I think most of us have encountered the real-world analogue of those characters. Brilliant, focused, but not overly blessed with common sense, they seem to congregate in academia and certain science fields. I knew one in grad-school, and the rest of us boggled at this person’s store of knowledge and insights into their specialty. We also had to peer-counsel the person about bathing, dress, dining manners (once explained to that “you won’t get a job if you don’t learn how to dine,” the person studied hard and mastered the finer points of eating with colleagues and potential superiors.) Lots and lots of knowledge, but not a lot of wisdom. The other extreme probably also exists, but I’ve not met an individual like that yet.

Wisdom comes from being bumped around in the world, or so it seems. Solomon got it as a gift, but most of us aren’t Solomon. We have to learn that that brilliant idea has been tried before, and has yet to work, that sometimes backing away slowly and letting the other party (two legged or four legged) very much alone is a good idea, that buying someone a vacuum-cleaner for her birthday isn’t a great idea, unless you have asked her if that’s what she wants. [My great-uncle meant well, he really did. He was just a wee bit too practical sometimes.]

The world is full of knowledge. Wisdom seems to be lacking at all levels. Part of it, I think, is that we are often sheltered from the consequences of folly. In part, it is easier and easier not to experience hard reality, so there’s no need to learn. Over-protective parents, over-litigeous societies, fear of offense, preferring to live in a sheltered reality . . . And then come the extreme risk-taking and other behaviors that leave some of us shaking our heads. Yes, wing-suits may be fun, but gravity will have the final say (even if the wing-suited individual does get the last word. Ahem.) Those of us who discovered for ourselves that just because the glass is no longer over the Bunsen burner doesn’t mean that it’s not hot, well, we shake our heads and wince, because we are not surprised by the literal or metaphorical splatification of society.

People have been decrying the lack of wisdom in society since, well, since the little produce problem and the Serpent winning the Apple Salescritter of the Year award. But society seems to be racing away from the traditional sources of experience and wisdom – religion, grandparents, studying the past. “Learn from the mistakes of others, because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself,” one of my aviation mentors commanded. In aviation, sailing, and similar, you will become postmortem if you screw up badly enough. The gene pool got chlorinated rather quickly, back in the day. Even now, Otto Pilot will lose to gravity, thunderstorms, and so on. Beware the clouds with the crunchy middles, especially when GPS and printed map vehemently disagree.

I’ve been bitten by reality often enough that I’ve made certain choices about personal conduct and situational awareness. I have the knowledge of what is possible and legal, and the wisdom to know that legal and smart do not always overlap by much (aviation once more).

Knowledge – tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom – you don’t put tomato in a banana split.

Charisma – convincing people that salsa is a fruit salad.

Made on Friday at 4:55?

There was one too many spent casings on the shelf at the range. I knew how many rounds I had shot, and here was an empty casing. I picked it up. It had never been crimped. I didn’t find a spare bullet in the bulk box, nor did I find powder.

People used to joke that “lemons” among cars had been assembled on the Friday before a three day weekend, just before quitting time. I think I found the .22LR version.

That, or someone in the quality control department originally worked for Lesters.

The sign/design has been around for at least 40 years. You can buy them in lots of places. The above is the most common version in the US.
I really like this one. Subtle . . .

[Full disclosure – one bad round out of over three hundred is not a surprise. This makes two duds in three boxes I’ve gone through thus far.]

Of Cannons . . .

The history of Scotland has more than just wars in it, but, well, there were a lot of wars. And lots of cannons in castles, because what good is a castle without a way to fight back? Trebuchets, ballista, and the like were used, along with dropping nasty substances on the attacker, but most castles today only have cannons.

Scratch one monument. Sterling castle.

I grew up climbing on old cannons, like so many kids. They were eminently climbable, and fun. I didn’t entirely grow out of it. Back in the late 1990s, when I was unchaperoned on the USS Texas, I found one of the anti-aircraft guns and tracked airliners with it. Since I had the ship to myself (it was a week day in December), no one fussed at me.

Sterling castle and city would have had a lot more cannons, but the city fathers discovered that they would have to pay for the guns. They’d thought they were a freebie, so to speak, when Queen Victoria’s government made the offer. The city settled on four for in-town use (if needed), and a few ended up in the castle.

“Enemy boat in the open! Fire when ready!” Looking to the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh castle.

Edinburgh Castle has lots of (Victorian) guns, because it was a real fighting fortress, and then the regimental headquarters for several Army units. It was improved to have more guns several times. It also has the largest cannon in the British Isles.

Mons Meg, cast in Mons in the 1400s, then given as a wedding present.

The slight springing is the result of a wee bit too much gunpowder used for a salute in 1680. The barrel is a true barrel: a large number of iron rods, bound with more iron hoops. Just like a wooden barrel. After 1680, Mons Meg was no longer fired, for obvious reasons.

However, there is still a salute at 1300, so ships can set their clocks.
The farthest weapon is the One O’Clock gun. You cannot climb on that one. Spoilsports.

That Was Almost Interesting

So there I was, standing in the shooting bay, minding my own business when Bang! The pistol went off!

Which could have been interesting except that I was following all four rules, so the only thing that happened was a hole appeared to the right of where I wanted the hole to be, and I startled, and said to myself, “Self, remember, the trigger on this one is a leeeeeeetle bit lighter than on” [movie announcer voice] “The Snubbie.” [end movie announcer voice]

Usually, I work from lighter trigger to heavier, but this time I wanted to get some things done with the snubbie and Big Pistol* first, including practicing using the speed loaders. So by the time I got to Lighter Trigger, I was hurting. This was partly due to muscle soreness from my heavy workout the day before, and partly because I wasn’t wearing a wrist brace, and partly due to inner perversity on the part of my joints in general. When I hurt, I try to move fast, and I get jerky with my movements, not smooth.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. And accurate.

So when I had Lighter Trigger loaded and pointed downrange at my target, I raised it, cocked it, had my finger on the trigger, and twitched before I was really ready. Bang. It did what it was supposed to do, just a little before I anticipated it to do that. Nothing aside from my ego was damaged. I know better. When I hurt, when I am tired, I must watch myself and focus on being smooth, no matter which tool, vehicle, or piece of equipment I am dealing with. Guns are tools. Knives are tools. Power drills are tools. All can hurt you if you are not careful, or do expensive damage.

The Four Rules. 1) The gun is always loaded. 2) Do not point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. 3) Do not put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot. 4) Always know what is behind your target.

Rules two and three are often interchanged, but rule one is always rule one. Unless the firearm is in multiple pieces on the table, consider it loaded and treat it that way. If you don’t touch the bang switch, it won’t go bang.

You can apply the Four Rules to other things. I use them for power tools, especially tools that have pieces that might come loose (air hammer, rivet gun).

*Big Pistol is not that big, until you compare it to a snub-nosed pistol of a smaller caliber. Then it looks big. It’s not a .45 or a Desert Eagle. And revolvers always look broad in the beam.

Rules Written in Blood

Aviation, at least in the US, has a surprisingly short list of rules. Part 91 of the federal transportation and other things regulations applies to everyone who flies anything. And as I told students, there is a lot of implied good judgement in the rules. Legal isn’t always smart. Smart comes down to the most important rule in the book: The pilot-in-command has the final authority and responsibility for the flight. The pilot in command can deviate from any of the rules if in his judgement safety demands it. Yes, you will have to explain, especially if something gets bent or broken. But the PIC is the boss, and everything else is based on trying to keep flying things out of undue proximity to the ground and to each other.

If you can’t see the ground, and you don’t have a “fly in clouds” license, don’t fly in the clouds. If you have not recently practiced flying and landing at night, don’t fly at night. If you are going eastbound, more of less, fly at an odd thousand feet plus 500 (if you are visual flight rules). Westbound gets the even thousands, plus 500. Don’t fly so close to the ground that you fly into the ground. Don’t be stupid. Don’t fly a broken airplane unless you label the broken thing so that you don’t get fooled and start to trust it. When around an airport, look out for other planes. The slowest, least-maneuverable thing has the right of way. Emergencies have the right of way (i.e. the guy on fire can land ahead of a blimp.)

If you are an airliner, you can’t go sightseeing off the approved route. Why? Because in 1956 two airliners were doing that, over the Grand Canyon, and one descended onto the other. People died. If your airplane is not certified and equipped for flying in known icing, don’t fly into known icing. Why? Because people did, and crashed, and died. Unless you are cleared for take off, or to cross the runway, and you and the controller agree that there is no one else on the runway, don’t take off, or don’t cross the runway. Why? March 1977, KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on the main runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It also showed that better cockpit communication rules might be needed, because the KLM captain did not listen to his copilot/First Officer when the man asked about the Pan Am being clear of the runway. It wasn’t.

Engineering has its own rules. You can’t build certain things certain ways. You can’t build a 2000 foot-tall radio antenna without guy-wires and other supports. Dams need to be anchored to the bedrock beside them with a watertight seal (see Teton Dam, 1976). You have to allow for resonances in bridges where the wind blows (Tacoma Narrows). There are times where heavy structure trumps airy design.

Lots of areas of endeavor have rules written in blood. I’m not going to go into recent events in New Mexico, other than to say that I feel very, very sorry for the families of the woman who was killed and the man who was injured. Had the Four Rules of firearms handling been applied, it is possible that the accident would not have happened. 1. The firearm is always loaded. 2. Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. 3. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. 4. Remember what is behind your target. Heck, Fr. Martial smiled when he observed that when I stopped cleaning the desks in order to talk to him, I moved my finger off the “trigger” of the spray bottle and pointed the bottle at the outside wall. (Spraying one’s boss with cleaner/disinfectant is generally considered somewhat gauche.)

“Why can’t I skim the bottom of the clouds? It’s fun!” It’s fun until the clouds get lower, or someone else appears on an instrument flight plan and descends on top of you, or you don’t see a mountain in time.

“Why can’t I stay at 6500′ MSL* until it’s time to climb to get through the pass into Albuquerque?” Because there is a 7200′ ridge in the way. It loves to eat airplanes. For a while it was averaging one a year. Beware of clouds with crunchy middles.

*Mean Sea Level. Then there’s ASL, above sea level. The two are generally, but not always, the same. The most important, however, is AGL. Above ground level, where one should remain between takeoff and landing.

Airplanes and Boom-sticks

They both have a set ratio of use to cleaning. In fact, I’m starting to think that two handgun makers in particular are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Beechcraft, because the handguns are just like a C-90 King Air. Two flights and then we washed the plane. Two range trips and then I clean the handguns.

Airplanes and firearms also lead to getting accessories. You know, headsets, knee-boards, cleaning supplies, manuals and guides, rule-books, bags to carry all of the above. A second headset because the first one wasn’t quite right, or you have a passenger/family member/friend who needs to have ear protection.

Airplanes and firearms eat a lot. Avgas and jet-A are, oh, about five to ten times as expensive per gallon (or pound or kilo, depending on how your plane is fueled) as car gas. Ammunition prices are starting to descend from “will trade fancy house in high-demand gated neighborhood for 100 rounds.” However, they are not a penny a round, like some calibers used to be. DadRed comments on this. Frequently. Especially after the Brown Truck of Happiness leaves a small, heavy box with a certain hazard marking on it.

Planes and firearms are both finicky about what you can use to clean them. I’m grateful for modern stuff, because I remember reading the Little House books and how Pa Ingalls poured boiling water down the barrel of his rifle to clean it. I’d just as soon not do that with a handgun! However, plane-washing and gun-cleaning are both messy, have to be done outdoors in some cases, and leave distinctive scents surrounding the individual doing the work. Some things [Simple Green among other products] are absolutely verboten for aircraft. So you end up with hot water (one hopes), a bucket of smelly soapy stuff, a scrub brush on a stick, and elbow grease. Oh, and the plane’s belly has to be done as well, so get ready to lay on your back on a creeper and scrub. A lot. Wear goggles – seriously, wear safety goggles. Solvent in your eye, or de-greasing soap in your eye, is pure h-ll. Trust me on this! Ideally, you won’t get firearm cleaning stuff in your eyes as easily, but I’m sure there’s a way if you work at it. You will end up with dirty bore patches, a bit of oil on your fingers, and the need to scrub your hands after doing firearms. No, do NOT take coffee or other things out with you when you clean firearms. Planes are a little different, but I’d still leave my drink of choice well clear of the bird and the cleaning effort.

Oh, and you’ll find that you need something odd. Leather cleaner for the King Air. You have no idea how many bottles of leather cleaner I went through. Not quite one a week, but it was close if we were busy. The air-ambulance had a white leather interior. The med-crew and some pilots wore combat-style EMS boots. Finding waffle-stomper prints on the upholstery was not rare. And of course just general dirt and grime got into the plane. With the firearms it is having at least two sizes of cleaning cloth bits, because the big ones won’t quite go through the smaller gun, especially if they have solvent on them. And a bit of oil for the moving bits (planes are supposed to take care of this themselves.*) And a silicone wipe for the wood and metal after you finish, especially if you are going to store the firearm for a while.

Oh, and there’s always someone who will be happy to tell you that you are flying/shooting wrong, and to show you the One True Way to do it. And if you are of the distaff persuasion, being associated with an airplane or firearm gives you +20 attraction points. Especially if you have a source of cheap avgas or ammo. Strange, that . . .

*Certain aircraft sling oil out all over themselves so that they go faster. Sort of self-lubricating in the atmosphere. Really. And if you believe that, I have an R-3350 that needs an oil change. The truck full of quart bottles is over there. I’ll tell you when you can stop opening them.

Product Review: GTM 70 Shoulder Bag

I needed a purse with a surprise in it. No, not a live frog, a dedicated secondary compartment for self-defense items. To my surprise, none of the places I’d expect to find this kind of thing up here had them, and this wasn’t something I wanted to buy on-line without trying it. So I ended up in Fredericksburg window shopping, and lo and behold, they had this sort of handbag, shoulder-bag, and . . . leather “gun tacos”* with the hair still on.

I emerged with a lighter wallet and a GTM-70 “Basic hobo handbag.” I later purchased a longer strap, so I could wear it cross-body. I don’t like having a bag only over one shoulder for an extended period of time. It’s too easy for someone to snatch it. Since the straps have a steel cable running through them, having a local leather worker patch in extra length wasn’t an option. The leather is high quality, and the two main pockets have a pale, satin-like lining so it is easier to find “things that drop to the bottom of the bag.” It also has a radio-shielded pocket for your wallet or car keys. (Remember – it also blocks the signal from your key fob, so your vehicle won’t open or start until you remove your keys from the pocket, if you have a newer car.) There’s a small outside zip pocket for ID, keys, or other little items.

The bag weighs what you’d expect from a good leather and fabric bag. It doesn’t have metal feet on the bottom, alas, or it would be close to perfect. It looks somewhat dressy, so if you need it for office or church/synagogue/concert use, it would be suitable. It doesn’t have a front flap or an outside phone pocket or water-bottle pocket. The style is clean and sleek.

There are two main compartments, plus the little zip pocket. And then the other outside pocket. That is reachable by means of zippers on either end, so you can get into it either left or right handed. The heavy leather keeps the contents of the compartment from screaming “Hi! I’m a phone, wallet, and 20 Kt diamond ring!” It is designed for flatter items, but bulkier ones work as well. I carry the bag with that side against me. The bag feels more comfortable that way anyway. And I wear it cross-body, not over-the-shoulder.

I have no difficulty drawing from the external pocket. As always, discipline and practice are vital, and being aware of which way items in the external pocket are pointing. Trigger discipline is a must, but that’s also true for drawing from any holster at any time.** And if one has to in an emergency, putting a hole through the bag is not the end of the world. Despite what one individual told me, most women (or men) would much rather put a hole or holes in a handbag or satchel then be beat up or worse.

If you need a “+30 Bag of Holding” for large items, laptop, tablet computer, kid-stuff, and so on, this is not your bag. The two main compartments are not as capacious as they might be, because of the external-access pocket and its contents. If you want a good every-day handbag that happens to work to safely carry a Little Friend, this is a good choice. No, it is not cheap. But it doesn’t scream “Hi! I’m packing heat!” like a few I’ve seen.

*The zip-open, soft-sided pistol cases are commonly called “gun blankets.” Except down here, where we call them “gun tacos,” for obvious reasons. These were $60 or so, attractive hair-on leather. I’m not entirely sure why one needs a fancy gun-taco, but someone must like them. I giggled.

**In general, on-body carry is better. However, there may be times and clothing requirements that make off-body carry more practical. Choice of self-defense tool also plays a role in this decision. There is no One Right Way.

FTC Note: I purchased this for my own use and received no compensation or remuneration from the store from the manufacturer for this review.

Slow to Smooth to Fast

The axiom is usually applied to shooting – “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” If you learn to move slowly, not rushing, not being herky-jerky with things, you become very smooth when you shoot, and more accurate than if you rush. After sufficient practice, smooth then becomes fast and accurate. I’m noticing this with my own practice, most recently last week, when I was taking my time and concentrating on not rushing and not trying to “beat” the folks two positions down who were shooting semi-autos. Everything flowed much better than it had in the past, even given that I was in pain and tired. Which means I need to practice more when I’m tired and at less than peak, because Murphy was an optimist.

The same thing applies to a lot of manual/physical skills. Flying in particular. I had several people comment that I handled the airplane very smoothly, not rushing, not making large physical inputs. In other words, I wasn’t whapping the stick back and forth to get a result, nor was I stomping on the rudder pedals. For one, doing that sort of thing can break the plane, which is considered poor form (unless you are a mechanic with house-payments. Then you can be very appreciative of the business generated by ham-handed aviators.) Two, it makes passengers turn various shades of green. Three, over-correcting tends to make things worse.

A lot of the first flight lessons is spent on getting students to relax, not strangle the stick/yoke, and to make small corrections smoothly. Even when a student accidentally snap-rolled a non-aerobatic aircraft, I responded quickly but smoothly, with the minimum control input needed to return the blue side to the top and the brown side to the bottom. Ditto when a freak outflow wind slapped my air ambulance plane into knife-edge flight. Granted, I’d had a lot of aerobatic training, so the world tipping over wasn’t new, just a surprise in those particular airplanes. I moved as fast as was appropriate, and smoothly so I didn’t break the plane or scare the passengers and med crew.

There are times to rush. There are even more times to move slowly and smoothly, which becomes quickly because you are not undoing or over-controlling. Firearms, planes, riding a horse or mule, working with power tools and hand tools, applying first aid . . . Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Society too seems to have become herky-jerky, leaping from crisis to cure to cause of the week. Some people are just like that, but the world as a whole seems to have become more abrupt and “rough on the controls.” I won’t blame the internet, because everyone else already does :), but I suspect life would be far easier for more people if those running the place (or who think they are running the place) moved more slowly and smoothly. I know that rushing just makes me flustered and more likely to mess up whatever it is I’m attempting to do.

Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.