Tag Archives: rants

The Kasarda Drill Is Stupid

We’re too lazy to set up a proper shared byline, but this is a collaborative work, and both our names are on it. – P. & F.

The Kasarda drill is stupid.

There, we said it. The Kasarda drill is a fixture of the sort of action matches featured on Ian and Karl’s Inrange channel down in Arizona. Briefly, it involves a stage where there is one (1) steel silhouette-type target at the end of a bay. The shooter has to cover a distance by repeatedly tossing a heavy kettlebell, and scoring a hit on the target from wherever the kettlebell lands. After the shooter has gotten the kettlebell across some predetermined line and scored a final hit, the drill is complete.

We hate this drill. We think it is profoundly stupid. Here’s why.

Karl loves to gripe about “practicality,” or the lack thereof in matches not designed in accordance with his preconceived notions. He doesn’t like raceguns. He doesn’t like compensators. Et cetera. And that’s fine. Open division isn’t for everyone. Fancy race guns aren’t for everyone. That’s why there are other divisions. Of course, he’s also griped about the 180 safety rule, lack of required use of cover, and other rules designed to make rules enforcement easily understandable by shooters and ROs.

And yet the Kasarda drill is also a massively impractical, completely artificial drill. It bears exactly zero resemblance to anything actually done by any law enforcement officer or soldier ever. Literally none, unless you want to completely abstract everything away and think of it as “physical thing plus shooting thing.” Let’s break that down.

First, the physical. This is not drag your buddy, or carry ammo, or lug a “support weapon”. It’s fling a heavy kettlebell. And they have to dictate how you do it, because if you do it wrong, you’ll screw up your shoulder or your back and be out of the match. And while the folks at Inrange preach about accessibility, there are plenty of folks who are going to look at a big ol’ 62 pound (or whatever weight) kettlebell and say “Nope!”, and I can’t seem to find the place where Inrange tells you how to accommodate those with bad backs. Anyway, matches near me have plenty of middle aged folks, and making them get into shape before they come to my match is going to result in a very empty match with not a lot of fees to cover my expenses. Likewise, being perceived as requiring people to get into shape before they come out and play at my match is also going to result in a very empty match.

If the point is “exhaustion and then shoot”, there are other ways to do it that are more accessible and less potentially injurious. Carry something heavy (cops and soldiers might do this). People can drag a heavy weight if they can’t actually carry it. Or, you could have people run a lot (cops and soldiers might do this too). Heck, the running challenge automatically adjusts to fitness levels if you do laps around a bay or something. You’d just have to make the par time work. And hey, it even reasonably simulates a real-world incident. Check out this video from Active Self Protection.

Second, the shooting. Seriously, just one plate? Really? No transitions? Not even a mandatory reload? This “drill” feels like someone is trying to inject a bit of shooting into Crossfit. If I want to crossfit, I’ll hit the gym. I’m on the shooting range. Can I at least have an interesting shooting challenge?

Uncharted Questions

A classic question for fans of the PS3 was “What’s your favorite Uncharted game?” Back then there were 3. Of course, we also have a PS Vita entry and the fantastic finale on the PS4. Today, I’ll look at the original questions. I love Uncharted 4 to death, but it has a huge leg up on the rest, being on a newer console with notably better graphics and an improved engine.

Of course, we have engine improvements in Uncharted 1, 2, and 3 as well, but they’re all on the same hardware, so it’s something we can adjust a little better for. Uncharted 3 has the nicest unarmed combat system, featuring attacks, blocks/counterattacks, and grabs. It also lets you throw grenades back. Of course, this ended up leading to a ton of grenade spam fights, and that’s honestly entirely too obnoxious. There are also a number of really frustrating encounters, moreso than in either Uncharted 1 or Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 also loads up on the gimmicky characters that take away the efficacy of some of your toys. It has the highest number of fights that I found annoying.

From a story standpoint, Uncharted 3 also has story issues stemming from a rewrite necessitated by Graham McTavish, the voice actor for Charlie Cutter, getting a significant role in The Hobbit. This ended up pulling him out of the production of Uncharted 3, forcing a number of story changes. Part of the reason I play the Uncharted games is for the story, and this doesn’t help things.

I really want to love Uncharted 2, because it has some of my favorite set pieces. But it also has a super obnoxious boss fight, and that is some bullshit. And then there’s this guy.

Jeff. Elena’s cameraman. His role in the story is to prove that Nate loves Elena, and then to get out of the way. By dying. After being shot but not before you have to endure an excruciatingly aggravating sequence where you have to carry Jeff through a running gun battle. Have fun trying to play a cover shooter when you can’t use cover. In the finest tradition of Galaxy Quest, we can see that Jeff’s only role is to die to prove that the situation Nate’s love for Elena is serious because he doesn’t have a last name.1 We know everyone else’s last name.

It’s also one of the less well done parts of the game, frankly. I get that Elena is Nate’s true love. And I get that they’re right for each other. Sure. But the way that gets presented in Uncharted 2 isn’t all that great. Honestly, Chloe seems like the better choice for most of that game. It would have been better to explore Elena’s character more. More time building that, less time carrying some idiot who’s going to die in the next scene.

Uncharted 1 has the least graphical polish, and the least nice fight mechanics, but the best story by far. Really the only annoyance is the sixaxis system, which is forced into it as an early PS3 title. While these are annoying, they’re not a huge deal, and it’s the one problem that gets completely rectified in the Uncharted HD Collection. Fixed grenade controls make Uncharted 1 a joy.

And of course, the other reason to leave out Uncharted 4 is that it’s really the best of the lot. Better controls, nice combat, stunning vistas, and a fun story.

  1. Apparently you can find one in the asset files if you dig around in the HD collection on PS4, but those are hardly called out in the narrative/dialog/anywhere you might actually notice. 

Let’s Bash: the Laugo Alien pistol

Today’s obscure piece of firearms technology is the Laugo Alien, a fascinating handgun whose slide rides between the frame and an interchangeable top strap.

This is objectively cool, and in the same way that CZ’s low-ride slides yield a nice straight-back recoil impulse, I can see how this design would do the same. It has the added benefit of fixing the sights to a non-moving platform, which is good both for tracking sights, and for not subjecting electronic sights to quite as severe conditions. All told, I think it’s a worthwhile experiment, and could very well be the next thing to catch on.

That said, as ever, we have to ask ourselves what the gun is for. The answer is pretty clearly ‘competition’. For one, just look at the colors. Subtle this ain’t. For another, look at the front iron sight: a big, delicate fiber-optic jobber. Finally, read the text in the second link. Laugo is planning an Open-division kit, which includes a Picatinny top strap, a flared magazine well, and a compensator. (No pictures of the comp, unfortunately.)

So, is it a good choice for competition? The answer is pretty clearly no. Let us count the reasons why.

One: caliber choice. The Alien teased so far is a 9mm pistol. That means USPSA Limited is out, at least as a serious contender. .40 is the sweet spot there, as in any sport with a major/minor distinction. USPSA Production? I think the iron-sight version would technically be Production-legal, but Laugo has to sell a few thousand, then get them on the Production list, and buying one for Production prior to that is a bit chicken-and-egg. USPSA Open? They seem to be leaning in that direction, with a pistol a full half a pound heavier than a Beretta 92 which has an optional Open-division kit. I wouldn’t want to be the first to put a few thousand rounds of 9mm Major through it, though. Carry Optics? Also no, because the sight is frame-mounted.

There might be some room for it in other shooting sports without a major-minor distinction, but then you run into problem two.

Two: magazine choice. Catastrophically, the Alien uses proprietary magazines. This is never, ever a good idea, especially if you’re building something in the technological avant garde. Magazines are hard to get right, and the best answer is almost always, “Use Glock, Beretta 92, or CZ 75 mags.” Proprietary magazines also limit you to 17 rounds of 9mm, which is insufficient for any sort of competition use besides Production division. Too, they’re expensive, they can be hard to find, and they’re a big part of problem three.

Three: no aftermarket. The best competition guns are those you either have custom made to have irresponsibly light triggers, those with custom shops which will do irresponsibly light trigger jobs, and those you can buy irresponsibly-light trigger parts for. Laugo is probably not going to sell a pistol out of the box with a two-pound trigger, and until such time as parts are available, it’s going to be a less-optimal choice.

All that being said, I can’t deny the coolness. Furthermore, like I said above, I think it’s very likely to end up being a good idea. I just don’t think it’s quite ready for the crucible of competition yet.

(If you’re reading this and want to prove us wrong, Laugo, we’ll give you our local FFL’s address.)

On J-Frames

The persistent popularity of small snubnosed revolvers, typified by the J-Frame models of Smith & Wesson, for concealed carry purposes astonishes me. Back in the day, sure. Small, reliable, semiautomatic pistols in a reasonable defensive caliber did not exist. But this is Anno Domini 2018. It is not 1958. There are plenty of options if you want something really small and concealable and reliable and chambered in a reasonable defensive caliber. Off the top of my head, there’s the S&W M&P Shield, the Glock 43, and the Walther PPS, all with established track records and manufacturers with good QC. These are reliable choices. They’ve been on the market for years. They work. Really. And they provide so many advantages over the small revolver that I still am astonished that people go for the revolvers instead. And no, I also don’t know why my tactical friends keep seeking out training on the damn things. Let’s review the many ways that the small, single-stack semiautomatic is flat-out better than the old-school revolver competition.

  1. Sights
    I tend to get picky about my sights. Modern semiautomatic pistols allow me to be picky. There are a wide variety of sights available for your Glock 19, letting you pick exactly the ones that work with your eyesight. Single-stack subcompacts like the PPS, Shield, and Glock 43 are no different. They all have sight dovetails. This highly advanced technology allows you to change out the sights to something that better suits your needs and eyes. It’s amazing. And these small pistols from established manufacturers have a large aftermarket. You need dovetails, but you also need sights to put in them. But we have you covered with the choices above, whether you like 3-dots or tritium or fiber optics.

    The vast majority of J-frames have atrocious “sights” that consist of a little lump of metal on the front of the barrel and a little trough cut in the rear of the frame. Not adjustable, not high-visibility, not tritium, and certainly not interchangeable. Simply put, the stock sights are awful and you are stuck with them. There are a few J-Frame models that actually have dovetails, but they are tremendously expensive and there are few manufacturers working with this market niche. Otherwise, better hope your chosen rounds shoot someplace sensible based on a reasonable sight picture.

  2. Trigger
    I’ve gotten less picky about my trigger choice these days, though I still like good ones. Anyway, I can think of few things worse in a trigger than the average double action pull of a recently-made revolver. Long and heavy, and probably gritty too. Lots of people will advocate an Apex spring kit in your J-frame. Which helps. Or you could get one of those single-stack subcompacts that has better trigger out of the box. And these single stacks can also take trigger improvements, just like their bigger brethren. I’m sure if I grew up firing revolvers and figuring out how to make that trigger work well, a slightly-lightened wheelgun trigger would be the “bees knees”. But I didn’t, so it’s not. Comparing stock to stock or modified to modified, the semiautos will have the better triggers, and you’ll likely be more familiar with them, because most of your shooting is going to be with some full size semiautomatic pistol.

  3. That Wheel
    You get five shots in a j-frame. Six in some competitors. At which point you’re working with speed strips, probably. Maybe speedloaders, but those are bulky. This is a different and slower reload drill than the modern semiautomatic, which you probably spend most of your time shooting. And even the small single-stack pistols mentioned previously all hold more bullets. Also note that the J-Frame’s footprint matches that of the double-stack Glock 26, which holds twice as many bullets and can accept magazines from other, larger Glock pistols.

Just about everybody is going to be better suited to buying a small semiautomatic these days. And you’re not giving anything up on size either. Here’s an overlay from the late Todd Green, who is also firmly in the more bullets camp, where we can see that a J-frame and a Glock 26 are both about the same size.

Glock 26 j frame

Oh, and one more thing. J-frames with the locking hole in the side of the frame above the cylinder release have been known to have this lock break, jamming up the gun. Just what you want.

Stage Design Sins

I’ve mentioned really enjoying competitive shooting, but I want to go over some classic screwups. Things that can hinder your enjoyment. Things that stage designers shouldn’t do.

The Sin of Insufficient Time

Par times are necessary parts of stages. Basically, this is a time limit. Par times are good in case one gets in over one’s head, or has significant equipment failure. In general, the RO won’t stop you unless your equipment fails in an unsafe way. If you’re having a bunch of minor issues, you’re going to have a hard time. And par times are necessary to keep things moving and put you out of your misery if everything goes south.

However, par times that are too short lead to large numbers of people timing out. Frankly, if I drove a long way for a match, and some idiot stage designer had misoverestimated the skill level involved, or is trying to compensate for a giant enrollment list with par times, and I time out a lot, and I see a bunch of other people timing out a lot too, than I’m not coming back. Ridiculously short par times promote poor behavior, like giving up. One of the best things one can learn in a match is to not give up if something goes a little sideways. Your plan didn’t work, so you adapt. Too short a par time will encourage you to give up, because you won’t have enough time to try something else. That’s lame.

The Sin of Stupid Hard Targets
In a similar vein, one should avoid targets that are Stupid Hard. Clearly, USPSA Nationals is expected to be harder than your average local club USPSA match, because of the higher average skill of the participants. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how is should be. Tailor the match to the crowd.

The problem comes when stages have segments that are so difficult, your score is improved by firing a round in the direction of the target and then moving on. A 50 yard pistol spinner might be one such example, depending on some other stage particulars. In such a case, it would almost certainly be the correct move for best score to fire a round at the spinner, take the failure to neutralize penalty, and move on. That’s lame.

These are things that can go hand in hand.

(Snarky) Confessions of a Recovering Tactical Timmy

I’ve gone to a bunch of “defensive”/”tactical” training classes1. And I’ve enjoyed them, and I have a lot of good friends who teach such things. That said, I’ve noticed a few quirks, and there are a few little things that annoy me. Maybe this is just me becoming more of a “gamer”. Whatever. I don’t care. Since I’m snarky, I’m going to point some of them out here.

  1. “It’s not a stage!”
    Continue reading

It’s Not the Arrow, Stupid

Fishbreath and I are gear junkies. We love tinkering. And there’s always the temptation to look at your gear, and look at how you can make it just a little bit better. Tinkering can quickly turn into obsessing. Jodie’s1 “interesting idea” becomes your “must have”. And you go nuts. Tons of perfectly fine pistols are ruined by people’s dumb ideas.

Let me be perfectly clear. As my old man says, it’s the indian, not the arrow. It’s your skill that makes the match day performance, not the gun.

Of course, I’m just some guy on the internet. Let’s look at a few examples.

EXHIBIT A: The Case of Mr. White.
Enter one Mr. Gabe White. A USPSA Limited division shooter out of the state of Oregon. He has a Master classification in this division. And yet, he has two noteworthy hardware limitations holding him back: his gun is strictly minor power factor, and he draws from concealment. He shoots a Glock 34. He can only score minor power factor with 9mm in Limited. So every hit outside the A zone costs him points when compared to the competition. And concealment slows his drawstroke. For usual rules of thumb, I’ve seen anywhere from one quarter to one half of a second as the difference between a concealed draw and an unconcealed draw. Another penalty his fellow competitors don’t have. And yet, he has an M classification.

EXHIBIT B: The Case of the First Two Limited Nationals
USPSA was originally a Run What You Brung sort of match. So if you had a lightly modified 1911 with sights you could see, a crisp trigger, and a dehorn job, and Jodie brought his new fancy compensated, optically-sighted gun, then you were stuck. One of the first divisions was a split between “Open” (No Limits) and Limited (No optics or compensators allowed). Around this time, some enterprising gunsmiths were figuring out how to make reliable 1911s with double stack magazines. They were expensive, and only a few guys could do it, so they were not common weapons. Enter Mr. Rob Leatham and Mr. Jerry Barnhardt. They took first and second place at the first and second Limited Division Nationals. Their pistols? Single-stack 1911s. Even though many of their competitors had the new double-stack models.

It’s not your equipment that’s holding you back.

  1. Yes, that Jodie. 

Some Thoughts On DCS: Part I

Eagle Dynamics’ flight sim DCS World is, on its surface, an impressive achievement. It’s the most beautiful game in its genre of the modern era, and one of the most exhaustive. Only the big players in civilian flight sims surpass it in terms of aircraft and theater variety, and nothing beats the complexity of its flight dynamics and systems modeling.

And yet, it remains a niche title. Why? I have three reasons: the engine, the ecosystem, and the community. Today, let’s look at the first.

Wait, wasn’t the engine a big pro? You’ll note I said it was pretty, and nothing more. I will grant it’s also fairly easy on performance for what it is, provided you haven’t added too many planes.

It falls down on the job in four crucial areas, though. First, it has no ‘bubble’ system a la Falcon 4, and can’t handle especially large numbers of units. There’s no good way to build and populate an entire front with opposing forces, and the lack of a true front line makes large-scale war scenarios very hard to do. It also means that the enormous bomber boxes from Battle of Britain 2 are still contained solely to Battle of Britain 2. Lacking the capability for large numbers of units makes even excellent innovations like MBot’s lua-script dynamic campaign engine less enjoyable than the pushing-20-year-old competition.

Second, there are currently two versions of DCS. DCS 2.1 is the new branch, which supports the payware Nevada and Normandy maps. DCS 1.5 is the legacy branch, which only has the Caucasus/Georgia map, but is also more reliably stable. This is a terrible state of affairs. Third-party developers have to keep their code up to date against two highly distinct versions of DCS, and these third-party developers are to a man small indie-style shops. They don’t have the developer resources to support two branches and build new products, and it shows. (More on this later.)

Third, developers can’t release standalone module updates. Module updates, as far as I can tell, require a full DCS recompilation. If a show-stopping bug makes it out of testing, players are pretty much out of luck until Eagle Dynamics can scrape together a hotfix. I have no idea why this should be the case, in this age of dynamic loading and so on. I suspect one of two things: either limitations in the engine, which does date back in some places to the Lock-On Modern Air Combat days, or a misguided attempt to prevent unauthorized third parties from accessing the high-end flight modeling features. The first issue could be fixed by a little work, and the second is a bad solution in search of a solved problem. Code signing is a thing. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Fourth, the simulation engine is extremely creaky. We’ll start with the scripting system. Not only is it difficult to use (fortunately, there are some scripting frameworks which wrap the inscrutable API), the API occasionally changes with no notice, breaking old missions. The mission editor, which is a key piece of any game that doesn’t have a dynamic campaign, is clunky and poorly integrated with the simulation engine. Its support for scripting is basically nil, to the point that it’s dramatically better to edit mission scripts in Notepad than in the mission editor itself. It may be a bit much to ask for a proper lua development environment in a flight simulator, but a full-screen text editing window would be nice, at the very least.

The simulation engine also lacks some crucial features for the sort of game Eagle Dynamics is trying to make. Most of the major omissions center on radar and electronic warfare. A third party, Heatblur Simulations, fields the current state of the art in DCS radar technology with the Viggen’s ground-mapping setup. Eagle Dynamics is scheduled to come back to the forefront with the DCS Hornet, but that still leaves all their other planes using a lightweight system which dates back to the Lock-On days. Aspect is unimportant but for notching, jammers are simple noise which only protect your aircraft, chaff (and countermeasures generally) only affects missiles locked on you (so Vietnam- or Viggen-style chaff corridors are impossible). The list goes on. Certainly, radar modeling is hard, but that’s no reason not to do it.

So much of Eagle Dynamics’ attention has been focused on paying work—modules, engine upgrades, new theaters—that they’ve let their underlying technology fall by the wayside. In the long run, that’s unsustainable, and I only hope that they can find the time to fix what needs to be fixed before the ongoing, accumulated debt catches up with them.