Monthly Archives: June 2018

Shopping List: Fishy USPSA Revolvers

These lists, unlike the earlier Carry Optics list, are shorter and simpler. There are no optics to mount or, indeed, new sights to buy; nor is there compatibility with pre-existing tuning to worry about. So, I decided to write up all of my options, to lengthen the article a bit.

For All Three

We’ll call it $200 for the two items below, to cover shipping and other expenses.

Moon Clips ($30)

No competitive revolver shooters use speedloaders; they’re an extra step and not worth the time. Moon-clipped revolvers are faster, and moon clips are cheaper than speedloaders. So much the better.

Belt Rack ($150)

Moon clip holders which can carry eight clips can be found for about $150 from a number of retailers. Even with my expressed preference for six-guns, I don’t think I’d need more than 8. My usual preference is to have about 60 rounds on my belt for a 32-round stage. 48 in the holders and 6 in my pocket is close enough.

The Safe Option(s)

A Ruger GP100 10mm ($800)

Ruger recently released a GP100 Match Champion in 10mm/.40, which fits my desire to use existing stocks of competition ammo. There aren’t a lot of gunsmiths who work on Rugers, but some polishing compound and some spring work should serve to get the trigger pull down to acceptable levels.

Or, A Ruger Redhawk .357/.38 ($800)

Ruger also has an 8-round Redhawk model in .357 which accepts moon clips. (They are, however, expensive moon clips.) This would let me play with the big boys in USPSA Revolver, and eliminates one of my objections to eight-round revolvers. 9mm is a wimpy semi-automatic caliber, not suited for a manly gun like a revolver, and 8-round 9mm revolvers are an abomination unto God. .357 (and yes, also wimpy .38 like I’d actually be shooting) are true revolver calibers.

It eliminates another one of my objections, too; a Ruger in .38 Special is undoubtedly hipster in the modern revolver competition world. I’d be able to shoot Limited in ICORE, if Western PA ever ends up with a club which runs ICORE matches.

Of course, there are some downsides. If there are few gunsmiths who work on Match Champion revolvers, there are fewer gunsmiths who work on Redhawks. The sights might not be very much good for competition, although they are at least replaceable.

All in all, a compelling option: the Redhawk gets me to the 95% competitive bracket really easily, with no esoteric stage-planning requirements.

Kydex Holster ($100)

Given that these are the cheap options and not especially long-barreled, a Kydex competition holster is probably the way to go. $100 is a bit of an overestimate here, but $800 is a bit of an underestimate for the guns, so it’s a wash.

Some quick Googling suggests that a Kydex holster for the Redhawk might be hard to come by. In that case, I would have to go leather, which is delightfully old-fashioned.

The Weird Option

A Chiappa Rhino .40 ($900)

A what? Yes, Italian pizza-gun manufacturer Chiappa, who you might know better for their replica old-time firearms in the finest spaghetti western tradition, also makes a six-gun which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Blade Runner. The bottom cylinder fires rather than the top one, and so the barrel is mounted low in the frame. The recoil impulse is nearly straight back. People say it’s nice. The Rhino can be had in .40 with a range of barrel lengths; I’d probably want the 6″ barrel because, in my opinion, it’s the coolest-looking1.

On that note, as I intimated in the first post in this series, the Chiappa’s major advantage is that it’s cool, and beyond that, that it’s uber-hipster. Nobody shoots Major in USPSA Revolver; of those who do, nobody shoots .40; of those who do, absolutely nobody shoots a Chiappa Rhino. That does have value to me; I like the attention I get when I’m shooting something offbeat.

A Guga Ribas Holster ($200)

Unfortunately, nobody makes holsters for Rhinos either, and a six-inch barrel makes for an unwieldy draw. I’d have to look into a Guga Ribas holster, sufficiently adjustable to grip the trigger guard of just about anything. That adds some expense.

The Boring Option

A S&W 929 ($1100)

I could also go the boring way, buying what everyone else has, a 9mm S&W Model 929.

Not only is it the most expensive option, it’s also the most popular one, and if you know me at all, you know how very unlikely that is.

A Guga Ribas or Other Adjustable Race Holster ($200)

If I were going to take leave of my senses and buy the boring race gun everyone shoots, I could hardly cheap out on the holster.

Conclusions

So, I’ve laid out four options. Every revolver option costs at least $200 for a belt rack and moon clips. Both Ruger options add $900 or so to the total, for $1100 to get in the door—slightly less than the Limited P-09. If I added another $100 or $150 to the total, to bring the price up to the P-09’s all-in price, I could get an adjustable race holster.

The Rhino adds another few hundred bucks of cool for about $1300. Unlike the Redhawk, it wouldn’t be competitive, but I would at least look cool while shooting slowly.

The Smith and Wesson option, at $1500, is probably out of my price range, in addition to being prevalent and therefore boring.

Okay, But You Actually Have To Make a Decision

You can’t make me. Not yet, anyway. More on that in a second. The way I see it, it comes down to P-09 Carry Optics, which is cool in a modern technological way, and the Ruger Redhawk, which is cool in an old-time lawman way.

What about the Rhino? For me, it comes down to competitiveness. I’m not shooting USPSA to become a better shooter, although that’s a pleasant side-effect. I’m shooting USPSA to compete in USPSA. The point of the game is the game. For the same reason I wouldn’t go to a fencing tournament with a left-handed foil, I’m not going to intentionally buy equipment which is well below par. As classic as the Ruger six-gun is, and as cool as the Rhino is, competing with them is, in a word, uncompetitive2.

So what’s it going to be? A Carry Optics P-09 or an 8-round Ruger Redhawk? I said I don’t have to answer yet, and I’m sticking by that. 2018, and in all likelihood 2019, are for improving with the guns I already have. Revolver requires a whole new level of planning, and a whole new level of shooting perfection, over Limited and Production. I have a pair of plenty-competitive guns I can easily shoot two seasons with.

In two seasons, the story might be different. Carry Optics rules are a moving target right now, and I don’t want to commit too early. On the flip side, in two years, Revolver might not be a USPSA division anymore, or Chiappa might come up with an 8-round Rhino. The point is, choosing now would be silly. I have time. It doesn’t matter how I lean now; it matters how the landscape looks in two years. I’ll let you know what I’m doing then.


  1. I actually emailed Chiappa asking if they had plans for an 8-round, 9mm version. (They already have a 9mm version in all the barrel lengths, as well as a competition-focused 9mm version.) Alas, the guy who answered my email said, ‘No, not at this time.’ And why am I okay with a 9mm revolver in this case? Because it’s the opposite of classic-looking, and so can use a non-classic cartridge without my scorn. 
  2. “What about that time you shot a two-gun match with British WW2 gear, though?” That’s entirely different. For one, I wasn’t shooting in nationally-organized three-gun with classifiers and ratings. For another, it was a for-fun match with gear I already had. 

Shopping List: CZ P-09 Carry Optics

In my previous USPSA what comes next post, I mentioned two possibilities for my next division, likely for the 2020 season. In this short post, we’ll take a look at what I would need for Carry Optics.

A Cajunified Lower (free)

Or, at least, free if you’re following the same path I am—starting with a Limited-spec P-09 and expanding your horizons. In that case, the Cajunified bits come gratis. I’ve written about the Cajun gubbins

If you’re starting from zero, the Cajun bits will cost you about $600, including the magazines, 140mm base plates, and followers. (You save about $100 by skipping the verboten-in-Carry-Optics magazine funnel.)

A Donor Gun ($475)

At a bare minimum, I need a new barrel for 9mm. Realistically, I need a slide; I’m going to be knocking out the rear sight and putting in a sight mounting plate, and I don’t want to have to change back and forth between a dot and the Limited rear sight.

Of course, nobody sells a P-09 slide without a frame, so the only thing to do is buy a second whole P-09 and toss the frame in a box for later use. $475 takes a little bit of deal-hunting, but not much; you could probably find one for less with a little patience.

Cajun Upper Parts ($50)

The lower uses reduced-power springs, so the Carry Optics slide needs an extended firing pin, reduced-power firing pin spring, and reduced-power firing pin plunger spring to match the Limited slide.

Happily, with the exception of the firing pin retaining pin (a roll pin), none of those parts are all that annoying to install.

An Optic Plate ($50)

Springer Precision makes a Fastfire/Venom/Viper-compatible mounting plate which sits in the rear sight dovetails. It also has polymer-tipped set screws, so you can crank it down onto the slide for better stability—important for a competition gun with no possibility of back-up sights. The last thing you want to do is lose your zero during a match.

An Optic ($225)

Although Springer makes mounting plates for other, more expensive pistol dots, the Burris FastFire III and the Vortex Venom/Viper are the obvious victors from a value perspective. Both run about $200-$225. Parvusimperator says Vortex has better warranties, so they get the nod.

Conclusions

Enhancing the P-09 with Carry Optics compatibility would cost, therefore, about $800. Switching from Limited to Carry Optics isn’t the sort of thing I could do at a match; not only do I have to swap the slide, but I also have to put the decocker in (or accept a subpar Limited start condition by leaving the decocker in). It isn’t that much work, though; five or ten minutes on the old workbench, even with the fiddly spring you may remember from the last post.

The nice thing is that I don’t need to buy any extra gear. The gun still fits in my existing holster, the magazines fit in my existing carriers, and everything fits on the belt I already have. For the revolver option laid out in a forthcoming article, the initial purchases are just that: initial. For the Carry Optics option presented here, there’s nothing left to buy.

Too, it’s a 100% competitive option. If I’m shooting at a disadvantage to others in the division, it’s much smaller than the disadvantage (or advantage) I end up with from being a worse (or, in some rare cases, better) shooter. For all my fondness for strange and oldtimey things, I’m ultimately shooting USPSA to compete. Even with the coolest, most hipster gear in the coolest, most hipster division, if I’m giving up effectiveness based on my equipment, I can’t be 100% happy.

Resurrected Weapons: Project Babylon

Back in the 1950s, when rocketry was extraordinarily difficult, and TV was full of videos of NASA rocket tests failing miserably, Gerald Bull had an alternative idea: Use a giant gun to put a payload in orbit. This led to Project HARP, which got a lot of great research done. By the 1960s, we had figured out (mostly) how to make rockets that work. It was still hard, but now we could generally expect launches to work. And so the plug was pulled on HARP, but Gerald Bull still dreamed of using a giant gun to put a satellite in orbit. Eventually, in the 1980s, he found someone with money willing to back his dream once more. That man was Saddam Hussein.

Project Babylon came in two phases. Stage one was “Baby Babylon”, a proof of concept model with a 350mm bore and a barrel length of 46 meters. This was initially used for horizontal testing, and was then erected on the side of a mountain. The full size “Big Babylon” would have been the biggest gun ever, with a one-meter bore and a barrel length of 156 meters. The original design was intended to be suspended from a steel framework by a system of cables.

Testing of the Baby Babylon cannon showed issues in dealing with seals between the barrel sections. While these were being fixed, Gerald Bull was assassinated outside of his Belgian apartment on March 22, 1990, which crippled the project. It would not be resumed after the First Gulf War.

Bull’s assassination was almost certainly not due to his work on Project Babylon. The superguns were massive, fixed targets. Easy to spot with aerial or satellite reconnaissance, easy to destroy. But Bull was also working on improving the range of Saddam’s Scud missiles. Those are much more effective than a giant gun. This was the project that most likely angered Saddam’s enemies enough to get an assassination. The most likely candidates are Israel or Iran, both of whom have intelligence agencies with lots of experience in liquidating potential problems.

Project Babylon itself is also extremely problematic. It’s a lousy weapon, as we’ve mentioned before. But I’m also extremely skeptical of their utility as a launch system. Even with a 156 meter barrel, the acceleration is going to be absolutely brutal. This is going to seriously restrict the payloads you can launch. A rocket is going to be far gentler on the payload, and much less likely to wreck a satellite. Plus, rockets can accept oversize shrouds to handle larger payloads, or be clustered to lift more weight. You’re pretty stuck with the weight capacity and payload diameter restriction here.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy Ordnance Board

Gravity, Graviton, Pendulum: a wireless hydrometer for homebrewing

I’ve been working hard on this project over the past week or two, and I put another week or two into it at the end of last year. Finally, though, it’s just about ready to show.

Gravity, Graviton, and Pendulum are the three components of an end-to-end wireless hydrometer system for homebrewers.

Graviton is a Golang server which manages batches and hydrometers. Gravity is a vue.js front end for Graviton. Pendulum is an ESP8266-based floating tilt hydrometer, with built-in calibration and automatic temperature compensation. Put them all together, and you get something a little like this:

dataflow

For each batch you have in progress, you get a dashboard with a chart showing measured gravity and temperature over time, along with apparent attenuation and current calculated alcohol by volume: everything you need to know about a batch of beer in progress.

Backstory

Obviously, I homebrew, or else I wouldn’t have started on this project at all. I homebrew with a friend, however, which means that wherever we brew, at least one of us is going to be remote. The ability to check on a beer remotely is therefore valuable to us.

There are other existing systems: the open-source iSpindle, which inspired this project; Tilt, a commercial floating hydrometer of the same sort as Pendulum and iSpindle; and BrewBuddy, a commercial product which solves the long-term power issue by replacing your carboy bung and dangling a sensor-only torpedo into the wort.

The commercial products are out because we homebrew in part because it’s cheaper than buying good beer, and a do-it-yourself solution is way cheaper (if you, like me, value your labor at near-zero). Why not an iSpindle, then? Because we brew in glass carboys, whose necks are a mere 29.5mm across at their narrowest points, and iSpindle uses an enclosing cylinder which won’t fit.

So, because no product out there fits our needs, and because Go, vue.js, and some very light electrical engineering are all useful skills, I decided to roll my own.

How it Works

Like all tilt hydrometers, Pendulum uses the interrelation between density and buoyancy to figure out the density of the medium it’s floating in. A cylinder with a weight at the bottom naturally floats at an angle. If the liquid is denser, the angle between the hydrometer and the vertical increases. If it’s less dense, it decreases.

Pendulum is calibrated by preparing a series of sugar-water solutions of known density, recording its measured tilts in those solutions, recording specific gravity readings from a calibrated hydrometer, and providing tilt-gravity pairs to Pendulum’s configuration interface. It does the required calculations internally.

calibration

Technical Details

Pendulum uses an ESP8266 microcontroller, a GY521 MPU6050 accelerometer/gyroscope breakout board, and a lithium-ion 18650 battery. Which precise ESP8266 board depends on how it fits in roughly 27mm tubes; I have several coming which will help me answer that question. The board I’m using for development has some nice features, like built-in USB battery charging and discharge protection, and if possible I’d like to stick with it.

As far as cylinders go, I have two options: a 27mm outside diameter jobber with a narrower screw cap, which will have to be hacksawed off, and a 27mm inside diameter tube used to hold collectible coins. The former may be too small on the inside, unless I detach the battery caddy from the development board, and the latter may be too big on the outside to fit into our carboy.

To-Do

In addition to the hardware task above, I have some work to do on the software side, too; some fixes to hopefully make the ESP8266 wifi connection slightly more reliable, and some changes and improvements to the web app and back end to allow for management of users and permissions.

Most of the hard work is already done. It’ll take about a month for the various enclosures to arrive from China, a week or two to work out the remaining hardware issues and perhaps add a transistor to the voltage measurement circuit, so it can be fully turned off. By mid- to late summer, I should have something release-ready, with enough documentation and photography so that anyone handy with a soldering iron should be able to assemble their own Pendulum. Until then!