• 22 Oct 2009 /  Firearms, Tech

    I recently came across (through a spam email actually) the Safety Bullet. Short version (you can watch the videos there for the longer version), it’s a device that chambers in your firearm just like a live round. If the trigger is pulled while the Safety Bullet is in place, the gun is locked up. Yes, the gun is completely disabled until you obtain the tool to reset it. Admittedly the tool is simply a plastic rod, but in my opinion this is a terrible idea.

    The recommended usage is to load 1 Safety Bullet in the chamber and 1 in the top of the magazine with live rounds below that. If you actually need to use your firearm, you then rack the slide twice to get a live round in the chamber. If you forget to do that and attempt to fire, you have a gun that will not function and you will likely die.

    Revolvers are even worse, you load a Safety Bullet in the next chamber to be fired. To use the firearm you have to manually rotate the cylinder one notch before firing. This is a rather delicate task, and if you lose count and attempt to fire 6 rounds instead of 5 (or 5 instead of 4, or 8 instead of 7, hmm how many rounds does this revolver hold again?), guess what? Gun locks up!

    So, under the stress of an attacker beating down your door, or coming up your stairs or beating a loved one with a pipe, you will have to remember this procedure or render your defensive firearm inoperable. It’s well understood that under this kind of life or death stress, lots of things go out the window. Fine motor skill and complex reasoning (uhhh … like math) being the big ones. I will say it again, this is downright dangerous if used in a home defense firearm. Using it in a stored firearm would not have these issues, so I’m ok with it in that application, but that’s not how it is being marketed.

    I’m all for safety and protecting our dear children, but this is just not an acceptable solution to me. If you’re concerned about your stored firearms, lock them up, even disassemble them if you like. If you have a home defense firearm please look into other solutions that don’t potentially disable the gun for the rest of your life. There are many quick access safes and locking devices out there that are much better solutions than this.


    Tags: , ,

  • 23 Apr 2009 /  Tech

    Verizon recently added a “Friends & Family” thing to their mobile plans where you can pick 10 numbers that won’t count against your minutes. The website provides details about your calls, but they don’t provide a good tool to find the 10 people you call the most. Hmm, what to do?

    OpenOffice to the rescue! Since Verizon makes call details available as a CSV download, they can be easily sucked into a spreadsheet where you can do all sorts of unholy data manipulations.

    Here’s the, somewhat ungraceful, procedure I worked out to find out who we call the most. I’m sure things could be automated more, but I’m also pretty sure it would take me a lot longer to do that than this took. All this stuff should work in Excel too, but no promises.

    1. Login to your Verizon account, Go to My Bill then Bill Details.
    2. Select the date you want and the number you want.
    3. Hit the Download to Spreadsheet link to download your call data into OpenOffice, you’ll need to repeat this for each number on your account separately. The default import options should work fine.
    4. Get all the data pasted into 1 spreadsheet page. I did a page per month, but you could mash it all together too.
    5. Turn on Data->Filter->Autofilter.
    6. Filter out the calls to other Verizon numbers that don’t count towards minutes.
      1. Click the pulldown that appeared at the top of the Usage Type column.
      2. Select each type of in network call. The are listed as M2MAllow, M2M Allow,CallWait, IN Allow, or IN Allow,CallWait. Depending on the date of your statement. You may also want to filter out nights and weekends (N&W), but I left that in since I really just wanted to know who we call the most regardless of time.
      3. Select all the filtered rows and delete them, repeat this for each type. Don’t delete the header.
      4. Select All in the filter to get back to the remaining data.
    7. Now, here’s the good stuff, select the entire sheet and go to Data->Subtotals.
    8. Select Number for group by, Minutes to calculate subtotals for, and Sum as the operation. Click Okee Dokee.
    9. Violin! The little elves will group all the unique numbers and place a subtotal of the minutes under each group. If you click the little 2 on the far upper right, you can collapse it so you only see the subtotal lines.

    Just go and pick out your top 10 from there, easy peasy, well, easier peasier.


    Tags: ,

  • 10 Mar 2009 /  Tech, Things I Like

    I’ve recently moved our photo hosting operation over to SmugMug . Up until recently I’ve been using a local webserver with a statically generated BINS photo album. That combination worked quite well, but scalability was a bit lacking, and there’s no tagging facility. Not to mention that I need to leave my machine on all the time. SmugMug addresses those issues quite well. It also essentially provides an off-site backup of your photos and videos (with the $60/yr plan).

    I began using F-Spot to manage the photo uploads from the camera, and from our previous archive, and to do all the tagging. Then F-Spot can directly upload to Smugmug. Everything works pretty well except for the tagging. F-spot stores the tags in the “Subject” field of the EXIF data, while SmugMug looks for them in the “Keywords” field. As a result the photos on SmugMug had no tags. Sad Clown.

    Once the problem was discovered, with some help from SmugMug’s forum, a little Googling revealed an almost fix in this blog entry. There was a slight problem where it was munging multiple tags into a single multi-word tag, but that was easily fixed via the -b flag, or -sep on newer versions of exiftool. The version in Ubuntu 8.10 still uses -b but try -sep if that doesn’t work on yours.

    So the following command successfully copies the Subject fields contents over top of the (empty) Keywords field. Since the path restricts it to a single month, it doesn’t take too long, and everything is peachy afterwards.

    exiftool -overwrite_original -r -P -b -“IPTC:Keywords<XMP:subject”  ~/Photos/2009/02/

    Incidentally if you decide to sign up for SmugMug, you can get a $5 discount with my referral code: Wo6AztZyF7W7I

    Yes, I get a kickback too.


    Tags: ,

  • 18 Jan 2009 /  Firearms, Tech, Things I Like

    One of the greatest things about the AR15 weapons platform is its modularity. You can take a standard AR lower receiver and slap a huge variety of upper receivers onto it. With a 30 second change, you can completely change the function of the weapon. You can go from a 10″ barreled close combat carbine, to a 16″ all purpose carbine, to a 24″ sniper or varmint rifle. You can even change the caliber from a .22 long rifle plinker/trainer all the way up to a .50 BMG long range “concrete is no longer considered cover” monster.

    Well at this year’s Shot Show, PSE introduced something that really breaks the paradigm of what the AR can do. They’ve announced the TAC-15 AR crossbow upper. Yes you read that right, and here’s a pic to prove it.


    Much like the spray pancake batter, I’m not sure if this is incredibly awesome or incredibly stupid. It seems to be quite long compared to a normal crossbow, though with the limb design, it’s narrower. I’m just not sure there’s  much advantage to slapping a crossbow on top of an AR lower. A crossbow isn’t considered a firearm, so it’s not like you have to go through the 4473 dance to get one and given it’s relative size, it just doesn’t seem that much smaller than just having a whole crossbow ready to go. At $1299 it’s no cheaper than a standard crossbow either.

    Still, it’s neat and I want one.


    Tags: ,

  • 05 Dec 2008 /  Firearms, Tech

    I believe that everyone has a right to defend themselves, and the right to the access to the tools to be effective at that goal.

    Palm Pistol

    New Palm Pistol

    To that end, Constitution Arms has developed a palm pistol designed to be used by the elderly and disabled, or anyone who is unable to use a standard handgun. As you can see from the rendering here, its ergonomics are quite different from a standard handgun. I can see how this would be easier to use by someone with limited hand dexterity or strength. It has even been approved as a medical device, so it can actually be prescribed by a doctor and is eligible for insurance coverage, that’s certainly interesting. I applaud Constitution Arms for taking on this challenge and developing this firearm.

    Old Palm Pistol

    Now, the concept of the palm pistol isn’t really a new one. Here’s one example from France in the late 1800’s. There were several other designs along these lines. The primary purpose was as a hide-away gun to stick in your vest or hat for dire situations, but as you can see, it resembles the new one quite closely in basic form. This particular example is in the, quite anemic, .32 rimfire caliber with a 10 round capacity, but as they say, “Any gun is better than no gun“.

    So why am I writing this? Is it really to laud Constitution Arms for their vision and civic responsibility? No, it’s not. While I still do commend them for taking this on, I think there’s a rather large problem with their design. Unlike the 1800’s version above, the new model is in an acceptable defensive caliber, 9mm, which is good. However, also unlike the 1800’s version the new model is single shot. While still keeping the “Any gun is better than no gun” axiom in mind, this is a severe limitation. Given that this is targeted to people who are already at a defensive disadavantage, giving them only one round of 9mm (or any caliber) is simply not enough. 1 shot, even if well placed is not a reliable attack ending response, and gives you no recourse for multiple assailants.

    So, I’m challenging Constitution Arms to build upon this first step and develop a handgun that will provide those that really need it, an effective defensive tool. Please feel free to send one to me for testing.


    Tags: ,