Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 25, 2020)

Issue #99! Thank you for following along for the two-ish years we’ve been sharing what passes for our reading list. I’ll maybe try to do something big for the next one of these—going back and finding predictions might be fun.

Books

  • I’m in the middle of Brian Enos Practical Shooting Beyond Fundamentals, and finding it useful. He’s gotten past the Zen-iest bits at the beginning, and some of his notes on grip and sight focus have stuck with me. Hopefully they pay off at the range.
  • Parvusimperator is probably reading things too.

Defense

Science and Technology

  • We might get a negative leap second – This will, of course, blow up a large amount of computer timekeeping infrastructure, because we computer people didn’t think of that.
  • Arecibo radio observatory to be decommissioned – Sad to lose an awesome piece of engineering as well as a big radio observatory, but Arecibo was also the biggest active radar dish in the world too, which will leave us still more vulnerable to alien invasion.
  • There are now three COVID vaccines in the home stretch. AstraZeneca’s, which is (probably; sample sizes are awful small) less effective than the first two candidates to pull out of the final corner, is also substantially cheaper ($3 per dose against $20+) and requires no more cold storage than a minifridge, and AstraZeneca says they can manufacture about 1.5 billion double-dose courses in 2021, against a few hundred million of the others.

History

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 11, 2020)

I’m a few weeks late in mentioning this, but Parvusimperator no longer works in the office next to me. He’s moved on to greener pastures; he requested I not say exactly where, but I will remark that you’d recognize the name.

Defense

Science and Technology

Guns

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 4, 2020)

If you’re the kind of person who looks at the URL bar, you might have noticed we went from a URL ending in 95 to one ending in 95-2 to one ending in 97. Getting real close to that centennial now.

Defense

Games

Science and Technology

Guns

Grab Bag

Decision 2020

Fishbreath Competes: 2020 USPSA Roundup

It’s the end of October, and that means it’s the end of the Western Pennsylvania USPSA season. How did it go?

Generally

I started shooting in Revolver division this year. I’m happy with my choice; my inkling I would enjoy playing the modern cowboy1 proved to be correct.

There are other articles here that explain in depth why I find Revolver fascinating, but I have a few further thoughts on the division after a year of shooting it.

First: it’s punishingly difficult sometimes, especially at local matches where the rule about how a single position can’t require more than 8 rounds is a little more loosely applied. The development of competition firearms pretty clearly states that nobody shoots a long, relatively heavy double-action trigger by choice. Getting my hits is not nearly as easy as it was with a red dot, and an eight-round capacity means that I don’t have nearly as much opportunity for makeup shots as I was used to with previous guns. Of course, I see that as a good thing. I was getting sloppy with my more race-y guns.

Second: it’s even more of a brain game than I expected. I’ve heard people slam the lo-cap divisions as just reloading whenever you move. That’s often the case, but not always, and I find that I have to spend a whole lot more thought on how to slice up a stage, and how to move through it efficiently, than I ever did with Carry Optics or Limited. The LCSA October match had a fair bit of this, although it’s not a great performance by any means.

Third: the heat isn’t quite as far and away better than me as it is in other divisions, which I suppose means that Revolver, in practice, is a little easier than Carry Optics. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. If one of my goals in this sport is to be properly good relative to my peers (and it is), it seems like I could do worse than picking a division where I’m naturally advantaged.

Fourth: it’s a conversation starter! Everyone’s curious about the gun, the gear, and the why. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told, “You make that look really fun,” which is a good compliment.

Fifth: earlier in my Revolver career (so, June), I described the division as wheelgun-specific esoterica layered on top of the very, very basics of the sport. In the last few weeks, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not strictly accurate. For many of the form and technique items I was doing differently than I would with a semi-auto, I’ve swung back toward the semi-auto methods. A grip is a grip, no matter what shape of handgun it’s formed around; a double-action trigger pull is a double-action trigger pull, whether it’s turning a cylinder or not2. What I can’t say for sure is whether this is an absolute truth or a ‘local’ one—is it just me, or is it a more broadly-applicable lesson?

Moving on, I’ve started listening to Ben Berry’s Short Course podcast, and although I grant he’s not saying anything especially novel, he approaches the sport in the same way I do and says things that I don’t think I would have hit upon quickly without someone else saying them. Two items in particular are worth calling out. First, the value of live-fire training. I was previously in the camp of, “I’ll do my live-fire practice at matches.” This, of course, is a bad idea. You may burn a lot of ammo at a match, but you’re spending a very short amount of time on any one skill, and you don’t have the time for analysis in between every few shots like you would running drills at a range. Two, how to practice generally. His mantra is that it’s very hard to drill your way to faster times, and that improvement comes much more frequently from doing something different instead of doing it quicker.

There are a bunch of other things too, but I’ll save those for a separate post, since this one’s already 1200 words long and I’m not even close to done yet.

Gear

Everything pretty much worked. I realize that this is a slightly strange thing to say in a season where I was plagued by light primer strikes, but those problems were largely of my own devising. A 10lb hammer spring and Federal primers are a reliable combination. I was trying to get a little too cute, and paid the price for it3.

It took most of the season, but I think I’m pretty well acquainted with the double action trigger on my chosen Ruger Super GP100 now. I have more to say about the gun, but I think it’ll work better as an article unto itself.

Long story short, the gun did its part, except when I was doing ill-advised tinkering. What am I feeding it with? Originally, it was a diet of factory .38 Special. The hotter factory stuff tends just barely to make minor power factor. I had planned to reload from the beginning, since I get all my brass back on handy little clips, and it seems wasteful not to use it, but I was planning on .38 Special. Difficulties with getting moon clips in and out of the gun convinced me to make the switch to .38 Short Colt4. Although the exact load is still a work in progress, it ejects from the cylinder more readily (the ejector pushes fired cases fully free of chambers even on a partial stroke) and drops in easier, too (the cases still wiggle in my moon clips, but the magnitude of the displacement at the tips of the bullets is smaller, since the loaded cartridges are shorter). All in all, this is another place where I decided to take my lumps and do the thing everyone’s doing—a painful thing for a hipster like me to admit, but in this case, they’re not wrong. The last thing on my list for easier moon clip dropping is cylinder mouth chamfering, which I’m having done over the offseason.

The last item on the gear list is the belt and associated equipment. I’m still using the same Midway USA two-layer belt I bought for my Limited P-09. It still works just fine. My revolver gear is heavier than my Limited/Carry Optics rig, so I get a little bit more flex, but not so much that I care to change up the belt itself.

Since Revolver is a race division, I might buy parvusimperator’s old Double Alpha jobber. I’ll have to try it and see how I like it first, though. The SpeedBeez Kydex race holster is perfectly functional. I don’t feel like I’m giving up that much time on draws, and the Kydex holster may actually be more forgiving in terms of getting a good draw out of a bad start, because there’s a place where my knuckle hits to tell me if I’m on target.

The SpeedBeez moon clip rack works fine. It’s not adjustable like the Double Alpha individual moon clip holders, but I don’t see any need for adjustment, and Double Alpha claims their magnets hold the moon clips more tightly anyway, which is the last thing I need. The SpeedBeez rack was also about $40 cheaper than the equivalent number of DAA racks. The one downside to the SpeedBeez unit is that it’s curved to fit the front of a body, and since I wear it slightly around to my left side, it doesn’t quite contour perfectly to me. Not enough of a problem to merit a change, though, I don’t think.

Goals (2020)

I didn’t have many explicit goals for 2020, because the season got off to such a strange start with the initial pandemic closures and all. I did sort of develop two goals as we got a bit deeper into the year.

First: maybe make B class? I’ve been languishing in C class for a while across all my divisions, and was trending toward B in Carry Optics last year as I developed further familiarity with the gun5. This year is the most seriously I’ve taken the sport by far, and despite having to get used to the revolver, I put in a pair of good classifiers in July and August (73% and 56%). That was a good base to work from, but my my classifiers in September and October have not been up to the same standard, except for last Saturday’s 56%, and so I’m not going to make B this year—especially since the 73% gets bumped from the list-o-recent-scores soon.

Second: shoot two matches a month for the length of the season (this year, it was June to October). This was not, I grant, a particularly hard goal to hit this year, given how much I was itching to get out to matches during the COVID lockdowns. After we started back up, the main obstacle to that schedule was weather, but this was a pleasant enough summer in that respect, except on two occasions: LCSA in July, and the Battle for the North Coast match at the end of August. On both occasions, it rained. For LCSA, I decided to tough it out and get the match in anyway; for Battle for the North Coast, I was already out at a hotel in Ohio, and it would have been a little silly not to shoot the match given that it was free for staff.

Goals (2021)

That was 2020. What’s the story for 2021?

To answer that question, I think I have to ask about goals more generally. What do I want to get out of USPSA in the long run?

Number one: I would like to get good at Revolver. There’s a continuum of acceptability here; the bottom end is M-class (which I think should be attainable even if I don’t have the natural skill to push deeper), and the top end is ‘nationally competitive’, by which I suppose I mean ‘can finish in the top half of a Revolver nationals field’. Dream big, right?

A brief aside before I move on: that’s a performance goal, which I’ve come to dislike. In the short term, it’s much better to have process goals. The only thing process depends on is your own motivation, which is entirely under your control. Process goals need verification to guarantee that the process is working, however, and that’s where the long-term performance goals come in. They don’t have a time horizon, but I can use them to check my progress, and therefore the efficiency of my process.

Long-term goal two: give back to the sport by playing staff at more big matches. This plays into a short-term goal (shoot more major matches). This is not an entirely selfless aim: my shooting budget is relatively limited, so saving $100 to $200 in match fees and most or all of a hotel means I can get to more majors.

Long-term goal three: advance through the RO certifications. CRO for sure. Range master maybe? It might be nice eventually, but the range master page says, “This isn’t just so you get a nice certificate on the wall, it’s so you can work matches on a regular basis,” and I don’t know if I want to make that kind of time commitment to officiating specifically.

Finally, number four: classify in every division. This is obviously not as serious a goal as the rest, and pretty much depends on a) classifier matches and b) guns I can borrow.

Of those four goals, only the first three are more than for kicks, and I can only work on the first two in the near term, given experience/time requirements for higher-level range officer certifications. That leaves two to work on. As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a dream, so what’s my 2021 plan to move toward those goals?

Item one: shoot three times a month through the USPSA season, which is about March through October here, with at least one of those three sessions being practice rather than a match. My ammo budget allows for 5,000 rounds next year, which comes to a bit over 600 rounds per month. Given my usual local matches, that means probably about 300 match rounds and 300 practice rounds if I go two-and-one.

Item two: dry fire three nights a week. Right now, I’m on a four nights pace, but I want to leave myself a bit more time to do other things next year, with the expectation that I can fill half an hour with some dry fire on the ostensible off nights if I don’t have other projects calling my name.

Item three: end 2020 with a one-year stockpile of reloading supplies. (And, ideally, load them over the winter.) I have orders in for bullets and primers (somehow, I found a case of 5,000 for a price that doesn’t make me sick), so all I need is to grab a bottle or two of powder from the FLGS one of these days.

Item four: work and shoot two major matches. Three would be nice, but I’d take two. (Or maybe even shoot two on staff day and work one without shooting it.) Gotta get that RO card populated. I’d love to go back to Battle for the North Coast as staff next year, and maybe I’ll see if I can pitch in at the Western PA section match too.

Lastly, item five: take an offseason from about mid-November 2020 to January 2021. That is, no regularly-scheduled dry fire, no belt-on practice. Why? This will help me deprogram any bad habits I’ve developed over the year, and set me up for a fresh start on the season in 2021.

Grokking Reloads

I’m going to wrap up this extraordinarily lengthy post with a quick note on reloading. If you’ve been following my videos, you might have noticed that I switched reload techniques after the first match. One of my most surprising discoveries while working up my wheelgun skills was that there are, to the best of my knowledge, zero written descriptions of the two major competition revolver reload techniques6 on the Internet. This coda is an effort to rectify that.

There are two schools, named after the hand which handles the ammunition: the strong hand reload and the weak hand reload.

The weak hand reload, which I tried first, involves opening the cylinder with the strong hand: the thumb hits the cylinder release, and the trigger finger pokes the cylinder open. The weak hand hangs around for a moment to palm the ejector on the way down to the belt. After the empties drop, the strong hand drops the gun to belt level, while the weak hand picks up a moon clip and drops it home.

The strong hand reload, which I settled on later, leaves the gun handling to the weak hand. The strong hand thumbs the cylinder release, while the weak hand shifts up to push the cylinder open with the fingers. (I use the middle finger and ring finger, leaving the index finger on the frame to aid in muzzle control.) While the weak hand brings the gun down to the belt, thumbing the ejector on the way, the strong hand goes for a moon clip and sets it in place.

The weak hand reload’s advantage is that it lets you keep your strong hand in place the whole time: no breaking your grip. The disadvantage is that it’s slower: your weak hand is doing nothing while the strong hand opens the cylinder.

The strong hand reload’s advantages and disadvantages are flipped: it can be faster (and indeed, a certain famed wheelgunner by the name of Miculek prefers it), but you’ll be breaking and re-establishing your grip several times over the course of stage.

For the short-thumbed, such as yours truly, the strong hand reload has a second hidden advantage: the weak hand moving up to the cylinder gives me the opportunity to move my strong hand so that my thumb can actually reach the cylinder release.

For me, match experience suggests the strong hand reload is the right one. I find it much easier to align the moon clip with the cylinder when the former is in my better hand. Too, my experience is that the strong hand reload is much easier to perform when moving in non-optimal directions—not just right to left, but even downrange to uprange. Pointing my thumb in a safe direction leaves open access to the cylinder no matter where I’m moving.

And there you have it. My 2020 season in review. Expect a one-season-in bit on the Super GP100 a little later on in November.


  1. My co-blogger, of course, realized this well before I did. Late last year, I was debating what my next division would be. He wrote ‘Revolver’ on a piece of paper, folded it, and told me to look when I made my final decision. Lo, he was correct. 
  2. Reloads are, of course, different. 
  3. In a Short Course episode I listened to recently, Mr. Berry made the switch to softer primers after a long struggle with getting CCI primers to go off. He admitted to stubbornly saying, “No, I should be able to get this to work!” Here, I make a similar mea culpa. “Just use the right spring!” 
  4. Also, everyone who heard I was shooting a .38/.357 gun said, “You using Short Colts?” It’s a curious little cartridge—about the size of a 9mm, and in its Starline incarnation, capable of withstanding similar pressures. I’m pushing a 158gr bullet with about 3.5gr of Bullseye, which is miles off the top end of the pressure charts for the cartridge in its original 1870s guise, but not all that unusual in the modern era. 
  5. I’d been shooting it for two years, although for the first of those two years it was in Limited guise. 
  6. It goes beyond that—there’s basically zero learning material out there for competition revolver. On the other hand, the Brian Enos revolver forum is one of the friendliest places on the Internet. They never seem to tire of answering newbie questions. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 21, 2020)

Disregard the calendar. For the next few minutes, it’s October 21.

Defense

Science and Technology

The Rona

History

Guns

US Politics

Grab Bag

  • Why do zebras have stripes? – The answer is not, as I would have confidently told you one week ago, camouflage. It’s insect resistance: flies find it hard to land on a striped surface, and Africa is full of little flying things carrying equinocidal diseases.
  • Door Kickers 2 is still on the way – Door Kickers the First comes with the Genuine Patent Soapbox Seal of Editorial Approval. We’re split 50-50 between hopeful and cynical on the next entry.
  • Red Bull could quit Formula One – They’re pitching a fit because Mercedes can’t sell them engines (no factory capacity left), they burned their bridges with Renault during the 2018 split, and even Ferrari doesn’t want Ferrari engines right now.
  • Surprising nobody, Wikipedia has a leftist bias – Just wait until I tell you about universities and the press!

Parvusimperator Opines on the Knight’s Armament LAMG

Shortly after I last looked at light machine guns and squad automatic weapons, Ian and Karl got some hands-on time with Knight’s Armament’s Light Assault Machine Gun, or LAMG. Let’s take a look at it.

The LAMG is a result of the continued development of Gene Stoner’s Stoner 86 machine gun design. It sports a number of modern improvements, but they’re all in the same spirit of the original, and Gene Stoner’s design principles. It’s number one claim to fame is a shockingly low weight. It’s a belt fed 5.56mm gun, and it weighs 11.4 lbs unloaded (per Knight’s website at the time I write this). Some other, lighter weights have been listed, so you can cut that down more depending on your configuration. That’s a super lightweight gun for a beltfed. For comparison, the M249 weighs 17 lbs unloaded (per FN’s website at the time I wrote this).

Light weight is the first thing that catches the eye on the spec sheet, but it isn’t the only nice new thing on the LAMG. To keep the gun controllable, there’s a low rate of fire, a long receiver, and a constant-recoil system. This should help the receiver life, since the bolt never slams into the back end. The receiver itself is an aluminum extrusion, which simplifies construction and doesn’t require a ton of rivets or welds to assemble.

Since the rate of fire is low, Knight’s Armament decided to not rip off the MG 42 feed mechanism, unlike the vast majority of modern machine gun makers. That mechanism may be combat proven and a popular choice of homework to copy, but it was originally designed to keep up with the MG 42’s extremely high rate of fire. Knowing that the significantly lower rate of fire of their machine gun was a lot easier for a feed system to work with, Knight’s went with a much simpler feed system that uses a significantly shorter cover. Simpler means fewer parts, which is generally preferable from a weight, manufacturing, and reliability standpoint, and it also allows them to mount a reasonably sized sight rail behind the short feed tray cover. This means optics aren’t on a moving tray cover, so they hold zero better. Also, it means worn hinges and latches don’t affect optics and their zero.

Knight’s Armament has also made quite a bit of provision for suppressed use, having both an available suppressor ready to mount on the gun, as well as a barrel assembly with integrated suppressor. I’m a big fan of general issue suppressors for military applications, so this is very nice to see.

Reliability and durability remain outstanding questions. We know what sort of abuse an M249 can take. We know what the design receiver life is. We can also track down some MRBS numbers. I haven’t been able to find anything like that for the LAMG, which is a damn shame. And in the videos Ian and Karl did, they kept insisting that the LAMG “wasn’t intended for sustained fire.” I wish they had actually gone into that, because I don’t know what that means. The barrel profile looks reasonably heavy. There’s a quick-change mechanism for that barrel. And there’s a belt, usually in a 1-200 round box or soft pack, so there’s plenty of bullets. Silly marketing aside, it hasn’t actually gone through the abuse of some troop trials, so while it’s seen a bunch of development time and money, I’d hesitate to call it “mature,” even if it has gone through a number of revisions.

Speaking of ammunition, the LAMG has no provision to feed from rifle magazines, which is a good thing. Those mechanisms never seem to work right. Plus they add weight and complexity all for the off chance that supply might not be able to get the frontline infantry linked 5.56mm in addition to 5.56mm in magazines. Which ignores all the times that they did, or that they supplied link 7.62mm and magazines of 5.56mm in past wars. Or .30-06 and .30 Carbine, and .45 ACP. We can safely skip the mag feed.

So what do we think? Is the LAMG better than the competition for 5.56mm squad automatic weapons? Yes, yes it is. The weight is pretty crazy. There were IAR entrants that weigh more. The LAMG loaded with a 200 round belt weighs about as much as an M249 unloaded, and that’s pretty significant weight savings. I’m a big fan of general-issue suppressors, and the LAMG can be readily configured to run with a suppressor and a suppressor-friendly gas system so the weapon doesn’t wear more or become less reliable over time from the extra pressure. And the constant recoil system makes it super controllable, even when fired from the shoulder. We’re willing to take a chance and deal with having to work out a few bugs to deal with a better machine gun.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 14, 2020)

Short one this week.

Defense

Science and Technology

Boogaloo?

Grab Bag

  • Japan’s lost generation: 2020 update – Among the entertainments I permit myself to consume is My Hero Academia, and I see some fascinating (intentional?) parallels between that franchise’s villains and some of the descriptions of the generation in question in the article.
  • Here is a 114-foot, 7400hp yacht… with an 800nm range? – That’s because it was originally the tender for a much larger yacht, in case its owner wanted to pop from Cannes to Corsica for lunch.
  • October match #1 – It’s a little disappointing after September match #2, but that’s the way it goes in this sport.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 7, 2020)

It’s late, so the commentary won’t be as inspired as usual.

Update: actually, it’s early, and I forgot to hit publish last night, so here you are.

China

Coronavirus

Defense

Science and Technology

  • Physicists build circuit that generates electricity from graphene – That is, from the thermal motion of graphene at room temperature. They seem to have sussed out a way to make the thermodynamics work out. I wish the article said something about what kind of voltages they’re generating—how far away are we from, say, a useful sensor-with-BLE chip that lasts forever? Because that would be handy.
  • Airbus and the hydrogen-fueled airliner of the future – Parvusimperator’s jokes about exploding airlines aside, it seems to me that some kind of liquid fuel is going to be required for aviation until such time as we start flying fusion jets around. Synthetic Jet-A seems more likely to me, though.
  • Otto Aviation reveals the Celera 500L – Thanks to laminar flow, it gets similar fuel mileage to my car, and cruises at 460 miles per hour on (coincidentally) 460 cruise horsepower out of a 6.3L turbodiesel.

Sport

Grab Bag


  1. I should emphasize that I’m not making fun of the Action Air guys. I think it’s cool that they have the option to at least shoot something, and airguns aren’t useless as training aids either. Tatsuya Sakai won the 2004 Steel Challenge championship practicing mostly with an airgun. He came to the US a month early to work up his real-gun skills and beat KC Eusebio by about six tenths of a second. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 30, 2020)

Autumn is now fully upon us here in western PA, and with the long, dark evenings comes more time for inside pursuits like writing. I have a biggish 2020 USPSA season wrap-up in the pipeline, along with some other revolver-related content (what can I say, I have a one-track mind), and parvusimperator has a few intriguing drafts going too.

War in the East: Azerbaijan and Armenia kick it off

Defense

Pretty Pictures

The ‘Rona and Associated Cultural Phenomena

Science and Technology

China

Guns Etc.

Decision 2020

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 23, 2020)

Any thoughts on what we should do for the upcoming 100th edition of What We’re Reading?

WuFlu

  • Is SARS-CoV-2 a product of gain-of-function research? – Gain-of-function research being the head-scratching idea that it’s somehow wise or worthwhile to turn viruses which can’t infect humans into viruses which can, to, I dunno, see if it can be done? Cue Ian Malcolm quote.
  • In that tweet, a guy called Peter Daszak is quoted on the subject of enhancing ‘SARS-related CoVs’, back in November 2019 – Here he is in Boston Magazine, identified as president of an organization that funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology, vehemently denying that research at that institute which involved identifying spike proteins that could cause bat viruses to infect humans and making new viruses from them could have possibly caused a human outbreak of a bat coronavirus in Wuhan.
  • Elsewhere in that Twitter thread, there’s some speculation that virologists who (rightfully, it seems to me) consider gain-of-function research to be an awful idea aren’t speaking up for professional reasons; who wants to be remembered as the person who caused the entire world to ban their field of research? Besides people with a sense of perspective, or, you know, morals.

Defense

3D-Printed Guns

A special topic! There have been exciting developments in the field.

Non-3D-Printed Guns

Other Science and Technology

History

Decision 2020 Etc.

Grab Bag