Monthly Archives: March 2016

More on That Kat Dame

A few more thoughts on that dame Fishbreath is taken with.

I got her back in New York, before I became the AR guy that I am today. I figured I should have and get familiar with an AK. So I picked out a reasonably-priced WASR from my local gun shop. I picked carefully and got lucky. Maybe mine was made on a Tuesday. Maybe the apes at Century Arms were out of vodka when they assembled mine. But they sight and gas tube aren’t canted at all, and the rifle runs great. And doesn’t look dopey. Perfect, right?

A few range trips later, and I had my answer: no. You see, I had already bought an AR, so I knew what this fancy new thing called “er-go-nom-ics” was. And the AK didn’t have it. So, like any good American with a credit card and an internet, I got to work trying to fix everything that I could that I found wrong with it.

PROBLEM: The safety.
The stock AK safety is pretty crap. It’s awkward and hard to manipulate. It has very small tabs that are hard to get a good purchase on. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to manipulate without taking your strong hand off of the fire control position. And taking your strong hand off that position is a Cardinal Sin in the Orthodox Church of Tacticool. You can’t look derpy at the range! Plus, it feels dumb.

SOLUTION: The Krebs Mk. VI safety
Fishbreath has already gushed on about this. There’s not much more to tell, it does exactly what it says it will. Now you can use your trigger finger to manipulate the safety easily and comfortably without removing it from the fire control position. Perfect! There’s also a notch for locking the bolt back administratively if you need to. You can’t use this as a last-round bolt hold open like you’d find on an AR though. That’s not moddable onto an AK.

PROBLEM: The Pistol Grip
Ugh. This thing was crap. It was tiny and uncomfortable and had no grip at all. No grip, I tell you! Maybe it was designed for Russians, wearing big gloves and who have tiny hands. I don’t know. All I know is it doesn’t work with my hands.1 It sucked.

SOLUTION: The Hogue Pistol Grip
This thing is awesome. There aren’t a ton of aftermarket grips available for the AK, but Hogue makes the best I’ve found. Comfortable and grippy.

PROBLEM: The Charging Handle
So the stock AK charging handle is a little piece of metal that curves forward a bit. It’s small, and if you grab it in a hurry you’re liable to jam your palm with it. Especially if you’re using your support hand to charge the gun like a cool kid. After a few attempts to go quick ended in pain and cursing, I had to fix it.

SOLUTION 1: Rubber Nubbin
This came in the box for my WASR. Didn’t know what it was for until I smacked my hand a couple times. Ow. It sort of helped. The charging handle didn’t hurt, but it was still damn small. And the rubber nubbin had a tendency to fall off. Eventually it started falling apart, and I looked for something better.

SOLUTION 2: Haji Cartridge-Handle
I took a spent casing and bashed it into place with the back of a magazine. Say, maybe them Ruskies had a point with these damned clunky, heavy-ass magazines. That was better! Now, I had a charging handle that was a lot easier to grab. It still fell off a lot though. And bashing it on only got me so far before it got all deformed and I had to scavenge another cartridge. Screw that. This is America, not Fallujah. I can do better.

SOLUTION 3: Tromix Charging handle
I found this bolt on jobber somewhere on the internet, and it’s just what the doctor ordered. It’s big, and knurled, so you can get a good grip, even if you’ve got gorilla hands. When I first put it on, it rattled a bunch, until I noticed they included a vial of red loctite. “Light bulb,” said I, and I slathered the tromix bit with the stuff, torqued the bolt down as hard as I could and let it sit. Perfect. No wobble.

PROBLEM: The Stock
The factory stock was some cheap laminate stuff, with lame finish. It was also wicked short. I’m not the tallest guy around, but I wanted more length of pull. At least when I’m not wearing three parkas and body armor.

SOLUTION: K-Var ‘NATO Length’ stock
Perfect! A stock for us apes. It’s polymer, adds about 1.4″ to the length of pull, was fixed so it was stupid-state compliant, and was cheap. It took a bunch of work to fit, but never say my Marine Uncle Sam2 didn’t teach me anything.

PROBLEM: The foregrip
The basic foregrip was made with more shitty Romanian laminate. And more than two mags at a good pace made you rue the day you forgot to take your gloves to the range. Again, it would also be nice if someone could add some freaking ergonomics to the front end of this stupid thing.

SOLUTION: Hogue Foregrip
Man, Hogue makes some nice grips. These have a palm swell even. And a heat shield! Yeah, just like on your M4. Because we Americans like to shoot a lot, and it’s sometimes not super cold here. Who knew? Anyway, this is so much better.

PROBLEM: The Sights
Are they intended to actually be used, or are these just for show. Seriously, they’re slow and imprecise, and the sight picture is terrible.

SOLUTION 1: White out and a file
I put some white out on the front sight, and took a triangular file to carefully open up the rear notch a bit. This actually helped quite a bit. Highly recommended if you like iron sights. You weirdo.

SOLUTION 2: Clamp-on Rail
The WASR comes with one of those russian side-clamp things. So I got a bit of rail that used the interface and put a red dot on that.
Perfect, right? No. Not at all. It’s super awkward because the Nato-length stock extends down quite a bit. Plus, my red dot had a mount on it to bring it up in line with AR-type iron sights. Super awkward. And ‘chin welds’ are retarded, so back to the drawing board I went.

SOLUTION 3: Ultimak Railed Gas Tube
This thing was a right pain to install, but it’s sturdy and gets the red dot down close to the barrel where it’s easy to pick up and still have a cheekweld. Also great if you want a convenient place to mount a light. It does get hot though, so be sure to never actually do much shooting outside of Siberia.

PROBLEM: Muzzle Device
My WASR was bought behind enemy lines. So it had a thread protector that was silver soldered on. But eventually I brought my rifle to Freedom and Real America, and I needed a muzzle device. But none of my usual suspects for AR competition brakes made anything with the right threads. Again, I hit up K-Var and found an AK-74 pattern muzzle device sized for the 7.62x39mm round. Add an adapter, and we’re good to go! It even works pretty well.

Eventually though, I found I spent more time at the range shooting my ARs, and wanted to consolidate calibers a bit. So, I sent Kat to Fishbreath as part of a wedding gift sale.

Better treat her right, Fishbreath.

1.) Fishbreath has called these “gorilla hands” on more than one occasion.
2.) No really. I’m not just super patriotic. I do have an Uncle who’s name is Sam and who served in the Marine Corps as a sniper. Great guy.

Meet Kat: an AK project gun

Kat1 is a GP WASR-10/63. Essentially, this is a stamped-receiver AKM, with a side rail for optics mounting pre-installed. The WASR designation marks it as a Century Arms import of a Romanian AK; some WASRs were built for the American civilian market back during the bad old days of the assault weapons ban, but this one is not. Kat’s receiver bears a triangle-and-arrow mark that marks her as a demilled Romanian military rifle. Century Arms imported her and built a rifle around the parts kit. Unlike the old AWB-compliant rifles, she had a pistol grip and a bayonet lug2.

Kat was originally parvusimperator’s rifle; he sold it to me at a steep discount as part of a wedding gift package. Since he is Captain Tacticool, it varies a bit from the original, 1950s-style configuration. Here’s what he’s done to it:

  • Added a NATO-length polymer stock. (NATO-length is slightly longer than the default AK stock, more closely approximating your M16 length of pull.)
  • Added a railed gas tube forward.
  • Switched out the forward handguard and the grip for Hogue rubberized ones.
  • Added an AK-74-style muzzle brake.
  • Added a large charging handle knob.
  • Added an improved safety lever.

I had the rifle out at the range the other day for some sighting in, and with a few magazines through Kat, I’ve decided what I’m going to keep and what I’m going to drop. Before I get into that, though, I should explain what Kat is for. At a shooting range an hour or so from Many Words World HQ, there’s a monthly two-gun shoot: that is, a combined practical rifle and pistol event. Kat will serve as my Scary Black Rifle for that endeavor. The precise setup, however, is a topic for the next post.

NATO-length stock – Drop
The main reason why this stock won’t do has to do with my choice of optic, which, as I said, is a topic for the next post. The NATO-length stock has two faults: it’s too long for proper/comfortable eye relief with my side-rail-mounted optic, and the comb is too low for a good cheek weld for same.

Railed gas tube – Keep for convenience
I don’t plan on going the cowitnessed red dot route, which is the main use for the gas tube rail, but I don’t have any particular reason to ditch it. Rails are useful. It might come in handy sometime.

Hogue furniture – Keep
I can’t speak highly enough of Hogue’s AK stuff. Grippy without being painful, comfortable to hold, well-molded to the human hand. I couldn’t do better if I tried.

Muzzle brake – Keep
I wasn’t planning on sticking with the AK-74-style brake, since it’s renowned for its size and weight. Tapco used to make a superb muzzle device for AKM-style rifles, which scores at the top of every muzzle device shootout I’ve seen, but they aren’t available anymore. The AK-74 brake may be amusingly large, but that’s part of its charm, and it does look very proper on the front of the gun. It also scores very well in most shootouts, and certainly reduces felt recoil and muzzle climb to very manageable levels: not very far off of an AR-15 without a brake.

This one may change down the line, but I’m holding onto it for now.

Charging handle knob – Keep for convenience
I probably would have chosen a slightly smaller charging handle extension: parvusimperator, in typical fashion, went for what I think is the biggest one he can find. It’s held on with a set screw, looks like, and parvusimperator tells me that he used the dreaded red Loctite, so in the interest of avoiding the tremendous bother finding my heat gun would be, I’ll just leave it as-is for now.

Safety lever – Keep!
The single best mod on the gun. I can easily flip the safety on and off with my index finger. Definitely holding onto it.

So parvusimperator did a pretty good job, though it pains me to say: Kat already has some of the features I want in a competition rifle. She is controllable, much better off as regards ergonomics, and attractive in that Scary Black AK way. Next post, though, we’ll explore what I’m doing to make her mine.

1. It’s multilingual wordplay. A common way of forming a diminutive, cutesy version of a name in Russian is to add an ‘oshka’ or ‘eshka’. For instance, the word for ‘male cat’, ‘kot’, turns into the general word for domestic cats of any sort by adding ‘oshka’: ‘koshka’. Pinning it onto the end of Kalashnikov yields ‘little AK’, Kalashnikoshka, which also ends in the word for cat. Hence, Kat.
2. It was ground off, at some point, but it was almost certainly imported with one. Parvusimperator speculates that, since he obtained it in New York (no friend to firearms rights), the bayonet lug was removed for compliance there.

Borgundy Mechanized Rifle Company

So we have a platoon, and a squad. At the small levels, we would expect organization to be fluid, based on situation and how many people are around to be organized. But we have to organize something administratively, so there it is. As we get further up on the organization table, structures become somewhat more regimented.

Philosophically, people like to debate between the square organization and the triangular organization, i.e. whether there should be three or four main component elements. Triangular units are smaller, so you get more of them. More importantly, they’re easier to command and easier to keep supplied. Square units can do more (since they have more) and are more casualty resistant. The Russians are big fans of the triangular-type organization. NATO uses the square. Or sometimes the triangular. Or some other weird things. The typical rifle company for the West is three rifle platoons and a heavy weapons platoon. The weapons platoon brings things like rocket launchers and GPMGs for added firepower. For a mechanized infantry company, the weapons platoon is pretty redundant, given that you have a bunch of IFVs already included in your platoons.

We’ve established a lean and mean 33-man rifle platoon with three CV90s. We’ll put three in our company. We could add a fourth, but it’s not strictly necessary, and it’s best to try to keep units as simple as we can. We’re also trying to keep things manageable by a Captain with a minimum of staff. Smaller units are easier to command, and Captains aren’t the most experienced officers. Besides, we’re also introducing some support units as part of the headquarters. We do not have an embedded headquarters at this level, unlike at the platoon or squad levels.

Our headquarters contains a CO and his very small staff. More specifically, there’s a CO, an XO, and a first sergeant. This isn’t much of a staff, but most of the HQ section is devoted to support personnel. Supportwise, we have a supply sergeant, a gunnery sergeant2, an armorer’s assistant, three medics, and a senior medic to lead the medical group. We’re also going to add some supply and maintenance personnel. There are a lot of good reasons to have some of these guys. Vehicles need maintenance, and more hands to do that is always good. Supplies often need some physical manhandling, and again, more hands is better. In terms of vehicles, the two officers each have a CV9035 at their disposal. The first sergeant has a Boxer MRAV at his disposal. Additionally, there are two light trucks3 and two medium trucks.4 Also allotted are two trailers: one 600 gallon water trailer and one field kitchen trailer. In terms of additional personnel, the IFVs are each allotted a driver and a gunner, and the APC is allotted a driver. Our supply and maintenance section is eight men, giving a total of 21 men and two officers in the headquarters. As always, everyone is issued a carbine. This way officers don’t stand out as much, and just about anyone can defend himself or be pressed into service as an ersatz rifleman as needed.

For those of you who like a touch of accounting in your TO&Es, this brings our total for the mechanized infantry company to 122 officers and men, and eleven CV9035s. It’s small and agile, and it comes with some limited organic supply and support assets. Overall though, it shouldn’t be too hard for a captain to command effectively. Interestingly, both the Russians, with their centrally-managed tactics and the Israelis, who are the strictest devotees of Aufttragstaktik5 orthodoxy favor smaller organization patterns. They are easier to manage, and this is an advantage for either the central commander or the independent local commander.

1. Cf. the Pentomic division. It’s as bad an idea as it sounds.
2. I have a lot of sergeants floating around here. I should probably make a rank table.
3. Something in the HMMWV or JLTV size class. I haven’t picked one yet, as the reader will note.
4. Something in the FMTV or MTVR size class. Again, choice pending.
5. For those of you who don’t speak German, “mission tactics”. The commander gives the subordinate in charge of a mission the goal, the forces he has at his disposal, and the timeframe required. The subordinate is expected to come up with and execute a plan, and react to complications along the way. Requires good training of one’s subordinates.

OpenTafl v0.2.1b released

OpenTafl v0.2.1b has been released here. It has almost full support for OpenTafl Engine Protocol, and the protocol specification is also near-final. (I’ll be finalizing the protocol definition in a release or two.)

The other feature on the docket for 0.2.x is a local engine-vs-engine tournament mode, which I (and, for that matter, you) can use to quantify strength gains from changes you make to your AI, by playing the current version against prior versions. I’ll provide more information on this feature as I develop it.

Pereh Missile Carrier

The Israelis have finally allowed details of one of their weapon systems to become public. Let’s take a look.

To understand the weapon system, we need to go back to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. During that war, the Israelis were fighting (and mostly losing, though it worked out ok in the end) a war on two fronts: against Egypt in the South and Syria in the north. There were considerable fears that the two Arab armies, with their new Soviet hardware, would overrun the Israelis.

While the Israelis got plenty of support from the Americans, they were also deeply aware of how fickle allies could be. France and Britain had abandoned Israel after the Six-Day war in 1967. So Israel decided to do a lot of indigenous work. You can always rely on yourself. One such bit was the development of an indigenously produced tank, the famed Merkava.

But, what to do with the old tanks? They’re not suitable for frontline service, but throwing them out would be wasteful. And, more anti-tank firepower was needed. The Israelis had already put quite a bit of effort into upgrading their outmoded M48 and M60 tanks. These were called the Magach series, but eventually the Soviet tanks were too good.

There’s a long history of converting old tank chassis into support vehicles. The Germans did this in the Second World War, making the well-regarded StuG III off of surplus PzKpfW III hulls. The Israelis went a similar direction with their old Magachs. Time had marched on, though, and the Israelis installed Spike-NLOS ATGMs instead of a gun. The result is called Pereh, which is probably a terrible transliteration. It means Onager in Hebrew.

Let’s talk about the missile: Spike-NLOS. These are big, long-ranged missiles. They’ve been around since the 80s, so quite a bit longer than the small Spike that’s a Javelin competitor. They’ve got a range of about 25 km, and weigh in at 70 kg or so. Spike is, uh, well, I would say SACLOS, but the wireless datalink doesn’t require line of sight to work. So, SACLOS-like, I guess. You can also provide midcourse updates via the wireless datalink, or even program target coordinates for the missile to hit. Maybe we should call it SACLOS++ or SACLOS# guidance. Bad programmer jokes aside, the Pereh carries twelve of them.

Structurally, the Pereh is rather interesting. The Israelis went to great lengths to disguise it as a tank. It has a dummy turret, complete with dummy gun, built around the box launcher for the Spike missiles. The box launcher retracts into the turret bustle, and the antenna can fold down. The turret has a pretty serious looking array of explosive reactive armor on it. Remember, the Israelis came up with this stuff first, and they’re pretty good at making it. It would not surprise me if the Pereh kept a bunch of the turret armor of the parent M48/M60/Magach.

So what are the uses? Well, the enemy will see a second-line tank, sitting in the second line, just where they would expect to find it. But from there the Spike missiles can still reduce an approaching tank assault force. The Spike missiles can also be used as precision, short-range artillery against fixed positions, and the IDF has used the Pereh this way to great effect in conflicts in Lebanon. So it’s got shades of the classic M18 Hellcat tank destroyer, but also the StuG III assault gun. And all that ERA will make it more resistant to enemy rockets and ATGMs that might come after it.

We think these are great. And Borgundy would like them too. I wonder if we have any M60s lying around.

On tafl: time use strategy

I wrote last month on game clocks for tafl games, and settled on something like the go game clock: main time, plus replenishing overtimes. You can find my reasoning at that link, so I won’t go into it here, rather taking the opportunity to chat about how to use the time that game clock gives you.

In undertaking any previously un-undertaken task in AI development, this question usually has an instructive answer: “How does chess do it?” Unfortunately, this case is one of the ones where the answer is a little less instructive. A perfectly functional, if not altogether optimal, time usage strategy for a chess AI is to assume that, however many moves the game has taken so far, finishing it will take 20 to 40 more moves. The AI should therefore use between 1/20 and 1/40 of the time remaining. Simple, and surprisingly effective: a chess game gets less complex over time, as pieces come off of the board.

No such luck with tafl games, though. A tafl game starts at moderate complexity, then grows significantly in complexity into the middle game, before tailing off again as the action focuses on a corner and as captures are made1. So, for fixed-time games, we want to spend a moderate amount of time on the early game, the bulk of the time in the middle game, and a decreasing amount of time in the endgame, conserving it as long as possible. For fixed-time games, OpenTafl, in its current incarnation, assumes that it’ll want to make a certain number of opening game moves (3, 5, or 10, for board sizes 7, 9, and 11), a certain number of midgame moves (6, 10, or 20), and an indeterminate number of endgame moves after the midgame. It dedicates a fixed amount of time (at present, 5%, but probably likely to increase) to finish all of its opening moves, a much longer amount of time (presently 75%) to the midgame moves, and a constantly decreasing amount of time to its endgame moves, with the remaining 20%. This seems functional enough in play with me, but the numbers will obviously be tweaked once I finish automatic self-play. (A feature which will be in 0.2.x, I’m pretty sure, given how handy it is for AI developers.)

Four hundred words in, though, and I haven’t yet covered the topic I said I wanted to cover to begin with: how do we handle overtime timing? It turns out that it’s simpler than fixed time, even: take the number of midgame moves above, use the main time for them, and use overtimes for all remaining moves. This, too, may be non-ideal—I could see some benefit to using the fixed-time framework for early game and midgame, and falling back on the overtimes only for endgame moves2.

There are some extra features I hope to add at some point: a little bit of history awareness, so that, whenever OpenTafl sees a wild swing in expected value for the current state, it can dedicate extra time to a deeper search. Another useful addition would probably be some slightly more adaptive time usage generally, with the ability to understand when the game has moved from the early game to the midgame, so that it can adjust its thinking time based on the state of the board, rather than fixed numbers of moves. That said, it’s heartening to see that my system for main time plus overtime time usage is basically what AlphaGo used in its games against Lee Sedol3.

Finally, and a little tangentially, I want to talk about OpenTafl’s success against me on various time controls. Now, I am a poor to average tafl player at best, so you should not take this paragraph to mean that I think OpenTafl has much of a chance against anyone good. Keep that caveat in mind. OpenTafl generally loses to me, and loses pretty severely, on longer time controls: this is a result of its flawed evaluation function4, which, along with alpha-beta pruning, frequently gets rid of branches that are ultimately better than the one it chooses to explore most deeply. The matches are closer with blitz timing: a 60-second brandub game proved to be pretty intense, and I only won with six seconds left on the clock. The shorter time control plays to the computer’s strengths: exhaustive reading three or four plies out, and it gets much closer to me in skill (in part because I can’t read exhaustively in such a small amount of time).

Anyway. That’s your inside look at the most recent major OpenTafl feature. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

1. I should note that by ‘complexity’ here I’m referring mainly to branching factor, the quantitative measure, mixed with a little bit of my sense for what proportion of moves are worth considering, a much more qualitative one, and, for that matter, a much more unreliable one.
2. Although it may strike you that 30 moves for an 11×11 game seems a bit light, consider that it’s actually 30 turns, or 60 moves total: for most 11×11 games, the game has either ended by then, or we’re well into the midgame or late game.
3. I got sleepy just thinking about being up that late. It is my sincere hope that when DeepMind announces its match against Ke Jie or whoever’s next, that they agree to play in London. Or maybe New York. Somewhere closer to Eastern Time, please.
4. A topic I intend to go into deeper detail on in a later post, when I’m working on some cleanup and improvement.

Battle Royale: P320 vs. PPQ vs. VP9

You’ve been waiting for it, and here it is. Parvusimperator’s take on the new crop of striker fired handguns. Well, newish. I’ve waited to see if any bugs fell out (they haven’t). I would get Fishbreath’s opinion too, but he doesn’t have a range with a good rental selection near him. Also, he’s quite fond of hammer fired weapons, because he’s old school like that.

So, let’s get down to it. We’ll look at each pistol, and then do some comparisons.

Walther PPQ
Pros: The best factory trigger on a striker fired pistol. The best. Marginally smaller than the VP9, quite a bit smaller than the P320 full size (this was what I had to rent). Very good ergonomics allowing a nice, high grip. Navy option available, with a cool factory threaded barrel and some extra bits to let you shoot it underwater (not that you care). Ambidextrous slide release.
Cons: Walther has atrocious market penetration. Frankly they have given exactly zero fucks about the American market, so Walther vendors are few and far between. This means that spare parts, accessories, and magazines are the hardest to come by of the three. One upside here is that you won’t get associated with obnoxious Walther fanbois, because there aren’t any fanboys at all, obnoxious or otherwise. Also counting against the PPQ is that it seemed to be somewhat flippy. This is admittedly subjective, but it seemed like it took longer for it to come out of recoil, negating some of the awesomeness of that trigger. More like shooting a .40 S&W, even though this was a 9mm.

HK VP9
Pros: Amazing ergonomics. HK’s grip is one of the best anywhere, with interchangeable side panels and backstraps. Will fit your hand really well; let’s you have a nice high grip. I could gush for hours about the grip. The trigger was very good. I actually prefered it to that of the PPQ and that of the P320 as far as Things I Would Carry. It’s got some take up and a noticeable break, and didn’t feel overly light or heavy. Very smooth. I felt like it had enough take up to feel comfortable carrying and light enough weight (and crisp enough reset) to shoot fast in competition. Again, ambi slide catches. Also, I liked the paddle magazine release, personally. Your mileage may vary.
Cons: The price. HK is the most expensive of the three. Also, you’ll be called an HK fanboy, so be prepared. You suck, and they hate you or something. HK has been really good to LE and Military contractholders. Civilian market, not so much. Their service has gotten way better than it was in the 90s though. You may hate the paddle releases. Accessory availability is meh, spare parts and magazines are available but expensive.

SiG P320
Pros: You may really like the modularity. The trigger lacks that safety blade thing, which is nice. It’s also really short, with very little take up and a very short reset. So it’s really easy to shoot fast, but felt a bit like having a P226 that I hadn’t decocked–I’m not sure if I’d want to carry it like that. Weird. It also feels heavier than the other two. But it’s probably a sweet gamer trigger. SiG has the least shitty aftermarket presence by far of the three, which is big points here. The sights are standard across all their P-series pistols, so those are available now for you. Again, slide release is ambidextrous. And, the P320 gets 17 in the mag, not 15. You might think this is cheating in the comparison, but the mag for the P320 is about the same size as that of the VP9 or the PPQ. And two more bullets is always nice.
Cons: I do not like the modularity. For one thing, every other gun comes with all the stuff you need to monkey around with the grip and figure out which is best for you out of the box. Even HK. With the SiG, you get the medium grip frame, and you have to go buy the others. Good luck finding ones to try in a gun shop before you buy. That’s just cheap and dumb. Further, I have some concerns about the durability of the wee inner module (the actual ‘firearm’, legally speaking). I don’t know how well it will hold up, especially if you’re doing lots of swapping. I probably don’t have anything to worry about here, but there it is. The controls are in their usual SiG place, and seem large. The slide release is super far back, even though there’s no decocker. They really should include the low-profile one so your thumb isn’t hitting it all the time. Once again, some gubbins to buy. Oh, and you’ll be called a SiG fanboy. They’re like HK fanboys, but rarer, because nobody cool uses SiGs anymore. Be sure to get the capitalization right like I’m doing, or expect a flogging.

Finally, I really, really don’t like the modularity. Yes, I’m going to dwell on it because people won’t shut up about it. Look, I don’t live in some communist hell-hole where the number of guns I can own is limited. I live in America. I like guns. I want to buy more guns. That guy behind the counter at my gun store? He wants to sell me more guns. Get with the program, SiG. I’ve never wanted to caliber-convert a 9mm to a .40 or vice versa. 9mm is cheap. .40 is slightly less so, but if I was a .40 guy, I’d want to get used to managing the recoil of the .40, and I’d want my sights to work with the ballistics of .40. Maybe a .22 conversion kit is worth it, if you want a cheap trainer with negligible recoil. But hey, when you’ve bought the new frame, new slide, and new barrel to turn your P320 full size into a compact or your 9mm into a .40, you’ve basically bought a new gun in terms of money spent. So…just buy a new gun, and have more guns. More is better. Duh. If you bought a new gun, you’d have more mags too. Or mags in the new caliber.

Okay, all that out of the way, it’s comparison time!
How do they shoot: Trigger?
PPQ is the best here. That trigger was like nothing at all. Might be almost too light, if we’re talking carry or duty use. Maybe. Hard for me to make that judgement. But it’s great for shooting. It’s like a double action pull with next to no weight. Personally, I rank the VP9 as second since it felt lighter than the P320, and I’ve grown to like some takeup. The P320 pull is heavy and short, which seems an odd combination. I’d like more takeup.

How do they shoot: Accuracy?
VP9 takes top honors here. Maybe this is that HK build quality I keep hearing about. Maybe it’s fitted tighter or there are some match parts or something. P320 comes in second, with a longer sight radius and heavier slide, edging out the PPQ with its great trigger.

How do they shoot: Recoil?
Subjectively, I thought the VP9 was the nicest shooting of the three. It was softer recoiling than the P320, and significantly less flippy than the PPQ. The P320 seems quite heavy for a plastic gun, but the grip is the usual SiG-low. It seemed jumpy, but wasn’t flippy. For purely subjective definitions of ‘jumpy’ and ‘flippy’ of course, since I don’t have a great way to measure recoil. Again, your shooting preferences will dictate your choice. Personally, I like the higher grip of the VP9. You might like the traditional SiG-style grip on the P320, which is a little lower. The PPQ was noticeably harsher and flipper. Not bad, but they’ve managed to make a 9mm feel .40-like in a handgun that isn’t a mousegun. Quite a trick.

How do the Ergonomics Compare?
The VP9 has the best ergos by far with all the side panels. It lets you get the right fit for your hand, even if you shoot better with something asymmetric. The little “cocking tabs” are nice for those with less grip strength. Or just to make you work less at it. The PPQ has a similar sort of shape as the VP9, but has only adjustable backstraps, like most pistols. Still, it fills the hand well and gives you a high grip naturally. The SiG will not let you get as high on it. It fitted my hand reasonably well, but I might have liked to play with the different frame sizes. I prefer a higher grip, or else it would have scored better here. Note also that the SiG only comes with the standard grip-frame module. If you want another size, you’ve gotta go buy it.

Were the guns grippy enough?
No. Nothing was grippy enough. That said, I like guns with barbed grips, or barring that, 20 lpi checkering. Maybe I should have these stippled.

Also, note that all three of these guns only come with two magazines, which is the bare acceptable minimum these days. I would have been much happier if they came with three magazines in the box. Not a dealbreaker, but you should be aware. All of them have crappy magazine prices. No wonderfully cheap Glock or M&P mags here.

Alright, now we come to the main event. Which should you buy? Well, being as this is America, you should buy all three. But that’s not a very helpful answer. Neither is ‘They’re all quite good, you can’t go wrong with any of them.’

Realistically, you should rent all three, and go home with whichever one you shoot best, preferably with some timed/scored drills. This may or may not be possible for you, based on what the ranges near you have available for rent, and how they’re configured.
You should also probably wait a little while and see what my friends Mr. Foxtrot, Mr. Bravo, and Mr. India come up with when they go to choose, since that design will get a big leg up in the aftermarket presence. But that means waiting. Again, rent them and draw your own conclusions.

Of course after all that, you’re still not satisfied. You want to know two things: Which one is best, and is it better than a Glock?

Fine.

Of the three, I’d take the VP9. I shot it best, I like it’s trigger for anything I might choose to do with it (including carry and competition), the ergonomics are great, and it shoots well. Plus, there’s plenty of cachet from being an HK owner. I’m a cool, badass CTU agent. Or…maybe I suck? I don’t know, I lost track of my metaphors in the aura of Teutonic greatness. But, shut up this pistol is great. You wouldn’t understand, you non-HK-owning peon. Go sit with the filth and buy your scum class tickets.

So is it better than my Glock 17? That depends. In terms of what you get out of the box, no contest. HK wins all the way. Better trigger, better ergonomics, better sights. Glock has an extra magazine, but that doesn’t quite make up the difference. The VP9 is the better pistol.

However, who the hell leaves a Glock stock? There’s a ton of aftermarket support for Glocks. Any sights you could possibly imagine, you can get. You can get bigger or smaller controls for the mag release and the slide release to fit your preference. You can get aftermarket triggers and fire control parts to make the trigger into anything you like, from a heavier duty trigger to a tuned competition trigger. You get a lot more sight options from experimenters and small outfits with Glock. Hell, you can build a Glock entirely from parts that aren’t made by Glock. So it’s simply a question of how much you like to tinker. If you want to tinker, get the Glock. It will reward experimentation. If you want to buy a pistol, add the sights of your choice, and be done, get the HK.

But really, this is America. The correct answer is to buy the Glock and the HK.

OpenTafl v0.2.0: Engine support arrives

In experimental, incomplete fashion, but it’s sufficient for you, as a developer, to start working with OpenTafl in engine mode. You can find the new version at the OpenTafl site. The engine protocol document has been updated with the latest developments. Although I won’t be able to say for sure until I’ve finished the implementation, this version of the protocol is nearly feature-complete, and likely won’t change very much going forward.

Expect a post in the not-too-distant future on OpenTafl’s time usage planning and time-filling activities, both of which are topics of some interest.

Coming tonight: AlphaGo-Lee Sedol Game 5 liveblog

What was looking like it could turn into a 5-0 stomping is now at worst a 4-1 loss, and if Lee Sedol can play to the same level he did yesterday, it may be a mere 3-2 win for the computer.

The Many Words crew will be on hand tonight to provide you the best in altogether amateurish coverage of the game. Stay tuned for the post nearer the start of the match.