Monday, March 28, 2011

Self Defense at Sea

Somali Pirates
After this post, my friend Dennis brought up the very valid issue of what to do about seaborne marauders in fast boats. Those Somali pirates travel hundreds of miles out to sea to capture large commercial traffic, and do a pretty good job at it, so being way offshore is not enough to be safe.

It's going to be a real problem if the US or the whole world are in survival/mad max mode, and bad guys like that might well be where I am.

 My solution was and is to be a "hard" target, meaning be harder and more costly to plunder than others. There are tactical issues to work out with that plan (how to communicate and demonstrate "hardness" to the bad guys, communications in general, avoiding a fight, on and on).

So I went down to my local gun shop here in Santa Fe to talk to people who spend time thinking about how to shoot bad guys, and told them I wanted weapons that would allow me to engage, destroy, disable or at least discourage, fast moving targets, at the greatest possible range, at sea. They put me on to the .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun round or .50 BMG.

An embarrassment of riches
This is a massively capable munition, with an effective range in excess of a mile, and successful shots have been made out to 1.5 miles. You can kill a motor vehicle with this round with one shot, by shooting the motor.

But that's just the beginning of the mayhem and destructive capabilities. There are all kinds of rounds available: tracer, armor piercing, incendiary, armor piercing incendiary, sabots, and armor piercing explosive incendiary. An embarrassment of riches.

With this round and the right weapon to shoot it, I could easily sink an attacking vessel at more than a mile away, and also permanently disable their engine, not to mention light it on fire with an incendiary round or two. Leaving the bad guys too busy trying to put out the fire, keep from sinking, and wishing they had a spare engine to devote much energy to taking my stuff.

I handled a 33 pound, bolt action rifle at the gun shop today that shoots this round. It's was $3300 retail, $100/pound, a bargain in my opinion. Needs good optics so add more to the bill. It's a massive thing, but we could pack two of them on the Fisher motorsailor easily, and deploy one forward and one aft. That would leave one unmasked at all times, both unmasked most of the time, and I bet with some luck we could hold off or destroy three fast boats at once. Regardless, I do think we would be a harder target than most with this kind of firepower and effective range, and not worth attacking once it was understood by the attackers what their cost would be.

There are lots of .50 caliber rifles out there, like these:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Survivalism as a Hobby

Back when I went through SERE Level D (Survival Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school in the Navy, I didn't pay that much attention to the survival part of the training, because we all had heard that the resistance part was what separated the men from the boys.

Now I'm looking into what it takes to survive in North America if we had to be totally self-reliant - no grocery store, water off, power off, bad guys prowling around looking to take your stuff. The issues and challenges are significant.

Planning: you have to plan ahead, and stockpile all kinds of stuff.

Weight: The stuff you need is heavy, and you may have to pack it and carry it with you.

Shelter: Again, you may have to carry your shelter.

Food: You can hunt, but you also need to carry freeze dried food or MRE's.

Weapons: They're heavy, ammunition more so.

Fitness: It's hard to walk over rough terrain carrying all your stuff.

Flee or stay: Might be better to try to tough it out in your house, but people may well attack you there to try to take your stuff.

Plenty has been written about how to survive when things go completely uncivilized and full bore crazy. This post isn't that.

The more I think about how to survive that kind of mess, the more I think I need one of these:

Fisher 34 Motor Sailor

This is a blue water capable brick shithouse of a sailboat with a large cargo carrying capacity, and a pilothouse to keep you out of the elements. It's safe and comfortable at sea in any weather. You can safely and confidently cross oceans in this boat, and many people have.

The ketch rig is good for shortening sail in a blow. This is not a speed demon, but making 5 knots under sail 24 hours a day for days on end gets you there, 125 NM a day.

So, as part of my survival hobby, I've thought about how this boat contributes to survivability.

Weight: All of a sudden, weight isn't such an issue. Want that big shotgun and 500 rounds? No problem. Bring books, too, all the ones you always meant to read. You'll have time for that now.

Shelter: A nice soft berth, and an indoor steering station. Never be wet or cold again.

Food: The V-berth can hold a year's worth of freeze-dried food for two, and the bilge an ungodly amount of canned goods. A decent watermaker will produce much more water than two to four people need every day. You can fish all day, underway, just by trailing a line and a lure astern, and probably catch a big fish a day.  Hell, pack some cases of wine aboard, why not?

Weapons: All you want. Big, dangerous ones. Lots of ammunition.

Fitness: Steering is easy. Getting sails up is easy. Fishing is easy. You'll be well-rested to boot.

Flee or stay: If you're on the boat, you've fled.

This boat needs some easy to make changes. Solar panels for electricity, A good life raft, materials to self rescue in case of rig or hull failure, as far as one wants to go down that road.

Bad Guys: 200 miles offshore, no bunch of bubbas in a bass boat with guns are going to come along to try to take your stuff. World navies might molest you, as might other blue water craft, but I think it's unlikely.


Cost: This is a fairly expensive boat, $50K-$200K depending on size (30 to 37 feet) and age/condition. All blue water boats cost a lot of money. Also hard to find in the US. Lots in Europe though.

Flight Decision: You probably have to leave before it gets really bad, or people will try to stop you and take your stuff. You don't want to have to win a firefight just to get offshore.

Here's one with a nice layout, very livable:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The News from Couch Central

This week I'll be home, working from my headquarters at Couch Central.

Some proposal writing for a project that it looks likely I'll get, but I need to push it off a few months, at least while I work on the current app. Might need to sub this new one out, even if it comes in during late summer/early fall.  Hope I get to do it myself though, it's interesting.

 Port experimentation continues. This is the best one so far:

Port from the Douro Valley in Portugal
Like all decent tawny port, it's made better when it's combined with a piece of stilton or blue cheese.

Refactored the vichyssoise recipe. I've been feeling a lot better lately, so I must be healthier. Accordingly, I reduced the amount of chicken stock by half, and slightly increased the amount of heavy cream. Much more intense leek flavor, good.

My friend J. told me about a failure to feed in one of his semi-automatic pistols. Since J. has only the finest, most expensive, and perfectly maintained weapons (I'm assuming this was his Sig Sauer pistol, as good as they get), I was concerned. He says it was a magazine spring failure, from being compressed too long by a mag full of ammo. I keep my magazines loaded all the time, and sprinkled all over the house in case I've emptied one and need another, so it's time to go to the range, fire them all to make sure they still feed perfectly, and also work on the Ruger failure-to-feed-at-rack-time issue. I hope and think the Ruger just needs a good cleaning. I'll do that first thing Monday.

Last, in the clicks and grunts department, I'm debugging why linked SQL Server 2008 R2 tables work on a client machine, but SQL Server Views don't seem to be able to understand that the server name is now different than my development machine name. I'm hoping Drew reads this and phones me up with the answer. If this paragraph wasn't clicks and grunts to you, I welcome your opinion. Before I tear all my hair out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wide Angle Photography

I am a fan of wide angle lenses, and have owned a couple of nice ones, but mostly I've used wide angle converters. The Sony VCL-DEH07VA which pulls my legacy Sony DSC-V3 down from 34M to 23.8MM is a pretty fine piece of glass, and I shot a lot of good, paid for images with the combination.
Octogon House, Lutherville, MD

Kitchen, Octogon House, Lutherville, MD

But as I move on to Micro Four Thirds photography, which I see as the future of high end amateur equipment, I'm a bit daunted by the cost of good wide angle lenses. Sure, it's early, but after dropping around $700 for a M43 body and a decent 14-42 kit lens, leaving another $1000 for the Panaaonic 7-14, and another most of a grand for the Olympus 9-18, it starts to add up. It's not outrageous money for a body and a few of lenses, it's just that new, better, and better priced lenses are certainly coming along.

So I looked for a software solution to making wide angle shots (and I do need a specialized one for a web site I'm working on), and came across Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Free. It works very well. Anyone can look like they have a few thousand invested in wide angle lenses, if they have the picture in their mind, and MS ICE.

Here's some shots of my first run at it. I just banged out some nothing shots of the living room on P, overlapping them, and then fed them into MS ICE.

Here are the raw shots:

And here's the composited image of the three.

I didn't tune these images up, so they are a little uncontrasty, but they demonstrate the point. It gives you the whole room. The barrel distortion is from the lens. For landscape photography, which I'll try out tomorrow, I think MS ICE might just be the trick. It's pretty hard to tell that this shot of the LR wasn't made with an 11mm lens on a DSLR. There is the one defect, but I could PS that out in a minute.

I'm not as much of a Microsoft bigot as I was (mostly for development tools) but it looks like they gave us a good thing for free with MS ICE.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Loretto Chapel

Santa Fe was founded in 1610, ten years before the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod, stole some Indian seed corn, and then made there way to their ultimate destination, Plymouth, MA, where the founded their colony and began an ultimately contentious relationship with the the native people.
The Loretto Chapel's Gothic Architecture

Out here in New Mexico, it was Spaniards and Catholics colonizing, not Puritans. The Pueblo Indians, on who's land I live today, and which they own, forcibly expelled the Spanish from the Pueblo and Santa Fe region in 1680, for bad behavior.

Ultimately the Catholic Spaniards returned, and in 1873 built the Loretto Chapel. The Catholic church abandoned the place in barely 100 years later in 1968, and it was sold in 1971. Today it is a commercial enterprise, rented out for weddings, concerts, and the like. It has a gift shop, and a resort attached where the school used to be. That disappointing end aside, it is still a stunningly beautiful church.

We visited today, and I was struck by the smallness of the place. It seats maybe 80 people comfortably. There's an awful lot of detail and beauty in that small space. The alter is beautiful, as well the stained glass. Along the walls are a series of chronological "dioramas" depicting Christs condemnation to his crucifixion.

All the pictures are here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

More Camera Talk

Working hard on my couch and expecting to become an internet millionaire any second now, it's time to consider my next real serious camera. My DMC-FX01 has been a great daily shooter, and will still probably ride in my pocket even when I get the next camera.

All Icelanders live in houses like these.

For me, it's all about lenses. At the end of the film era, I wanted one of these for the unsurpassable brilliance of the Carl Zeiss prime lenses. I still might get one and have to pay people to scan the perfect negatives these lenses produce. I know I hate scanning negs.

So get a DSLR you say? Yeah, but the last time I carried a full blown SLR kit on a trip was to Iceland, and it was a lot to lug around. Granted, it was blowing so hard most of the time and so cold that I just drove as close to whatever I wanted to shoot, jumped out of the car and banged away for 30 seconds and called it good, but what if I were to go somewhere like Monterey CA, like we are planning to do? I want to be foot mobile.

Monterey Bay from the Presideo
And I want prime lenses, like those Zeiss beauties. 

So, to get those prime lenses, small ones, and a small body to hang them on I'm thinking the Micro Four Thirds system is a good way. Why?

The Micro Four Thirds system Olympus and Panasonic for mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camerascamcorders[1] design and development, announced on August 5, 2008.[2] (MFT) is a standard created by and
MFT shares the image sensor size and specification with the Four Thirds system, designed for DSLRs. Unlike Four Thirds, MFT does not provide space for a mirror and a pentaprism, allowing smaller bodies to be designed, and a shorter flange focal distance and hence smaller lenses to be designed. Virtually any lenses can be used on MFT camera bodies using a right adapter. For instance, Four Third lens can be used with auto focus using the adapters designed by Olympus and Panasonic.

What's all that? Small bodies, big sensors, small lenses, and you can change lenses just like an SLR. But it's all small, so you can carry it around more easily.

 Hell, I can hang a Voightlander lens off of one of these bodies if I want, just like in the good old rangefinder days, back when I couldn't afford a rangefinder, and certainly not a Voightlander lens. Lots of lens choices, pocketability with a pancake lens, and lugability with the kit. Full manual control, and maybe depth of field again? I'm sold.