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"walls of the city" logo conceptualized by Oleg Volk and executed by Linoge. Logo is © "walls of the city".

a happy coincidence

If you have a See All Open Sight

SeeAll

… and attach it to a UTG 5-Slot Universal QD Riser

IMG_0133-001

… you will have about as good a co-witness situation as you can hope for: 

IMG_0126-001

Another happy coincidence is that since you are looking over the See All, rather than through it, an Inforce WML can happily coexist on the same rail plane as the sight, and not block your picture in the slightest, meaning that if all you want is a sight and a light, you only need the one rail segment. 

In other news, I love having a DSLR again.  That picture, imperfect though it is, took forever to set up, but would have been completely impossible with a normal point-and-shoot. 

The riser is a bit of an odd duck – easy to use and install, but once you tighten the adjustment screw far enough to keep the riser from sliding on the rail, it pretty much is no longer “quick-detach”.  The detent holding the lever closed is so tight at that point, my pansy little fingers cannot get it loose.  Oh well.  It puts the sight where I want it, so I am not going to complain too much. 

Speaking of the sight, I have no had a chance to shoot it yet, so no significant comments on it.  It does seem well-built, but I would note that, like many other light-gathering optics, the brightness of the optic will be based on the light around you, not the light around your target. 

Unfortunately, the AR Pistol build is currently on hold on account of technical difficulties with a Troy Alpha Rail.  Initially, it refused to slide over a mil-spec barrel nut, so I ground the teeth down a touch to make it work.  Now it is refusing to rotate into place (it slides on about 5 degrees off top dead center, and rotates back to lock on), leading me to believe that Troy did not account for the FDE finish on the forearm changing the overall dimensions.  I have a phone call scheduled with Troy’s technical support team bright and early on Monday, so we will see how things go. 

Oh, and Remington, take note – this phone call with Troy came after I posted a mere two tweets indicating that Troy’s instructions are… shall-we-say lacking and that I was having trouble with the rail.  I did not have to file a support ticket, I did not have to out them on the intertubes; they actually listened to their customers, and when their Twitter operator could not handle my questions, he arranged for me to be passed off to someone who could. 

That is customer support.  Granted, the situation is not resolved, and it can still go sideways, but that is at least one order of magnitude better than y’all achieved. 

presented without (much) comment

I just sent this letter to Mr. David Hollinger, Director of Sales at Remington Arms: 

Mr. Hollinger, 

We last spoke on 24APR14 regarding a Remington 700 I received, new from your factory by way of Buds’ Guns, that had rust crusted all over the bolt and receiver; specifically, this rifle, serial number RR97####:  http://www.wallsofthecity.net/2014/04/dear-remingtonarms-and-budsgunshop.html

I put that rifle in the mail on 21MAY14, it made it to Remington on 27MAY14, and Remington acknowledged receipt on 28MAY14. 

Two days ago, I received that rifle back, and was remarkably disappointed by what I found. 

As the attached Repair Document indicates, absolutely nothing was done to address, check, or even, so far as I can tell, examine the rusty bolt that my 700 came from the factory with.  Part of the problem, I am sure, stems from the Service Request form I received from your Service Department, also attached – as you can see, the form mentions "Barrel – Rusty", but says absolutely nothing about the bolt being rusty. 

I noticed this discrepancy before mailing the rifle and took the time to hand-write a comprehensive explanation that it was not, in fact, the barrel that was rusty, but instead the bolt, and that I was concerned over the structural integrity and finish of the bolt.  Apparently your repair technicians completely disregarded my annotations, and, unsurprisingly, found absolutely nothing wrong with the barrel – because there was nothing to find. 

When last we spoke on the phone, you assured me that the Remington technicians would thoroughly examine the bolt, sign off on whether or not it would be safe to continue using it, and repair or replace it as necessary. 

What do I need to do to ensure that actually happens? 

Very Respectfully,  
[Linoge]

This was the second draft of the letter I wrote; Better Half would not let me send the first one. 

[Update]  Mr. Hollinger responded: 

[Linoge] I apologize for the mishandle. I forwarded your message you should be hearing from someone in the near future.

[/Update]

mail call

I understand this just went in the mail to wind its way towards me: 

10500424_10204341367923851_3504092686346764014_n

Many thanks to Owen at Snake Hound Machine for handling the ordering (from Ares Armor no less… yes, that Ares Armor) and assembly, as well as my incessant and occasionally stupid questions.  Once I throw on my hand guard and muzzle device – both to be revealed in good time – I think that will top this off quite nicely, no?

gunsplaining

You can thank Fuzzy for this: 

gunsplaining

For those who do not get the reference (and I did not), I point you to here

43 days

That is how long Remington took to send me this email: 

This is to provide notification that your firearm/part has been shipped.  We are committed to being the best in our industry at providing fast, personalized customer service — and we hope we have exceeded your expectations.

Of course, it could still be a week or so before it shows up on my doorstep. 

Unfortunately, mine is probably not a good baseline to consider for the whole “replacing the trigger” problem, given how many other things were wrong with my rifle, and given how much of a stink I raised.  I will be curious to see what, if anything, they did about the rusty bolt… 

But, regardless, 43 days to replace a modular trigger assembly and a bolt that literally slides out?  That is pretty damned pathetic, Remington. 

idiot-check time

So now that I have an income once again, it is time to consider replacing my now-six-year-old Dell XPS 630I, especially after the video card scare a few months back. So, I have built this parts list through PC Parts Picker – a far too handy site that not only finds you the best price for parts, but also the best combinations of MIRs, combo sales, and so forth. 

CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz Quad-Core $219.99

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Seidon 120M 86.2 CFM Liquid Combo or $44.99

Motherboard: ASRock Z97 PRO4 ATX LGA1150 $99.99

Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Combo or $88.99

Storage: Crucial M500 240GB 2.5" SSD $109.99

Video Card: XFX Radeon R9 280X 3GB Black Edition Double Dissipation $279.99

Case: Corsair Graphite Series 230T Black ATX Mid Tower $49.99

Power Supply: EVGA 650W ATX12V / EPS12V $64.99

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 – 64-bit (OEM) (64-bit) $94.98

Total: $1040.90  (This does not match the summation of the prices on account of the CPU Cooler / RAM combo.) 

The general idea was to do as good as I could for ~$1000, but there were a few other constraints: 

It has to be able to play Star Citizen, when/if it ever comes out.  Unfortunately, they still have not pinned down exact hardware requirements yet, so that is still shooting in the dark. 

It has to be able to deal with living inside of a cabinet.  My computer is up with the cats, and they have a wonderful habit of chewing on things.  As such, my box lives in a special-built cabinet to keep its wires and such away from their happy teeth; the cabinet has vents and an exhaust fan, but it is still less ideal than the box just sitting out on its own. 

On a similar note, the case has to have filters.  I blame cat hair for the death of my master video card, and would rather avoid that in the future. 

It has to be somewhat expandable, whether that is more DIMMs, or another video card Crossfire’d to the original, or so forth. 

It has to support the inclusion of up to 3 1TB hard drives I have on hand, as well as a DVD-RW drive.  I would like for it to support the media card reader I have, but finding 3.5” external slots on cases these days is bloody hard, and replacing it with a 5.25” version will not be expensive. 

So, am I overlooking anything?  Is my money better-spent in other ways?  The Intel chip was chosen because apparently they have better single-core performance than the AMD octocores, and most games these days use, at most, two cores.  The 280X was chosen simply because, based on the comparisons I have seen, it seems to spank comparatively-priced NVidia cards.  Everything else was more-or-less chosen to fit in the budget (I mean, there are little wins like the power supply being 80+ gold and modular, but nothing as a hard-and-fast constraint). 

how not to drive a ship

A few days ago, Sean Sorrentino asked me if I had anything to say about the recently released bridge conversation from the USS Porter right before and during its collision with a tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. Of course I do have a lot to say, but I had to figure out how to say it.

Before I embark, let me first say that I was not on either ship and am not intimately familiar with the circumstances revolving around the collision – I only know what is public. Further, I mean no disrespect to anyone on either ship… unless I make it abundantly clear that I do.

For those of you who only care about my take on the tape, skip down to the first horizontal line; otherwise, read on.  Alright, the first stop is to ensure everyone is speaking the same vocabulary. On the bridge of a US Navy warship, there are (generally) four people who really matter in terms of where that multi-thousand-ton object is going:

Picture 250 Small- The Helmsman: This is the guy with his hands literally on the wheel of the ship, and he controls the rudder(s) back behind the screw(s).  There are a couple of different ways he can do his job, both in terms of the hardware and what he is actually doing (maintaining a course vs. maintaining a rudder angle, etc.), but this guy is the one who physically directs the ship.  He is always enlisted (unless an officer is doing some training), and is generally a Boatswain’s Mate

- The Lee Helmsman:  If the Helmsman controls the steering wheel, this guy controls the gas pedal.  Different ships have different ways of setting their speeds, but this guy operates the lever(s) which tell the engines how hard to push.  Once again, this position is manned by a BM. 

- The Conning Officer:  This is the only person the Helmsman and Lee Helmsman listen to when it comes to the direction of the ship.  It does not matter if God Himself were to appear on the bridge and say that the ship must go thataway or risk eternal damnation – if the Conning Officer does not give the order, the ship should not move.  On a similar note, the Commanding Officer must take the ‘conn’ – which he can do whenever he likes – before the Helmsmen will listen to any direction-related order he gives.  This distinction is rather important, because the bridge of a ship can become a nightmare of noise sometimes, but the two guys actually driving the ship only have to listen for one voice.  This role is generally filled by a Junior Officer, and sometimes by a Non-Commissioned Officer. 

- The Officer of the Deck:  Also known as the OOD.  This person is the direct representative of the Commanding Officer on the bridge, and he is not only responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, but also for the safety and security of the ship as a whole.  He has to keep up with the tactical situation, the orders of the day, the day’s schedule, any major evolutions going on in the ship, the bridge crew, the engineering plant, and pretty much everything else going on onboard the ship.  To be an OOD, you have to train (generally as a Conning Officer), complete a qualification checklist, and pass a board of the ship’s senior officers and CO, which makes sense – you are being entrusted with his boat.  Interestingly, OODs technically have the conn by dint of their position, but invariably delegate it to the Conning Officer; in fact, on both ships I served on, it was a standing order that the OOD could not keep the conn.  OODs are again generally JOs or NCOs. 

There are, of course, a lot of other people on the bridge of a ship, especially when she is doing something unusual, dangerous, or significant, but those are the big four. 

StraitsofHormuzMoving on, the Straits of Hormuz suck.  Go ahead and blow up the chart to the left (borrowed from here) or use this slick interactive version.  At its narrowest point, the Straits are about 30 statute miles across, but thanks to the topology of the area, there are three instances where ships are restricted to two-mile wide channels – you can see them just off Ra’s al Kuh, the northern tip of Oman, and around a small cluster of islands, from right to left.  In those cases, all ships are supposed to keep to their respective lanes, as prescribed by the arrows on the map; in all other cases, you are given pretty much free reign, with the understanding that you are invariably in national waters when transiting the Straits and are under an obligation to get clear of territorial claims as quickly as you can. 

Aside from the geography, the Straits of Hormuz are one of the busier narrow sections of water in the world on account of all the oil trade flowing through it.  Worse, you are in range of no shortage of Iranian missile batteries on the shore, and the Iranian Navy has a wonderful tendency of trying to harass US warships as they are trying to transit. 

In other words, this was probably the most stressful transit I ever had the privilege of executing, and that includes the Panama Canal and the Straits of Malacca

Speaking of things I have done, I have only served onboard an FFG and an LPD – a Miata and a minivan, respectively.  DDGs are rather the Corvettes of the US Navy (not to be confused with actual corvettes), and their captains tend to be somewhat akin to Top Gun aviators.  I am, of course, stereotyping, but these ships are the pointy end of the spear, are brimming with power (both in terms of weapons and propulsion), and will be the first to fight.  It takes a certain mentality to command a vessel like that, and the Navy and its captains know that. 

One final thing; the United States Coast Guard defined and maintains the International and Inland Navigational Rules, otherwise known as the “Rules of the Road”.  Unsurprisingly, these are not significantly different from some of the road-based “navigational” rules, but, let me tell you, it is bloody dry reading – there are light configurations, signaling methods, transiting instructions, special rules for the Mississippi River, hierarchy of “right of way”, and on, and on, and on, and I had to memorize most of it. 

Arguably the most important Rule, though, is also the simplest, and can be summed up as such:  unless you absolutely, positively have no other choice whatsoever, do not turn left when other ships are around.  Why?  Because the default direction to turn is “right”; if two ships are headed straight for one another, the correct answer is for both to turn right.  If one does that and the other turns left… well, things get bad. 

Which brings us to the USS Porter and its collision. 

The general gist of the situation appears to be that the USS Porter was inbound to the Persian Gulf at about midnight, and had passed through the second restricted channel and was headed on into the Gulf proper.  Reports indicate that this was the Porter’s 13th Straits transit on their deployment, and the CO was initially not on the bridge during the transiting.  Personally, I only did four transits of the Straits, and I cannot say as though my crew ever got comfortable with it, especially what with the Iranians dropping packages in the water in front of some of the ships in our deployment group.  Did the Porter’s bridge crew, or CO, get complacent?  Who knows. 

While steaming along, the Porter came across a freighter showing “the international signal warning other ships to stay clear”; I kind of fault the Navy Times for not being specific about how the vessel was indicating this, because there are a variety of ways indicating a variety of problems on the ship, but I guess the finer points of it are immaterial.  Ships showing warning lights have the right of way, regardless of any other applicable Rules. 

So, for some reason, the Porter turned left to get clear of the disabled vessel.  Remember that “most important Rule” up above?  So much for that.  We will likely never know why that first decision was made, since the bridge recording starts immediately afterwards, but that already put us in a bad situation.  Is it possible there was a good reason for turning left?  Absolutely.  But I have had COs have me come to a dead crawl to avoid having to turn left. 

How do we know the Porter turned left?  Two reasons.  First, all US warships have AIS technology onboard now, and while the data broadcast is understandably neutered, it does track the ship’s location.  Second, all navigational orders are entered into the Ship’s Log, which is a legal, binding document and a track of all the orders given on the bridge.  OODs actually have to sign off on the Log before turning over the watch; I have actually stood watches where the only things separating my signature from that of my predecessor and relief are the lines on the page.  Those are good watches, or horrible ones, depending on how you handle boredom. 

Which brings us to that fateful tape. 


00:00 – 00:06:  Warship bridges can be noisy places.  They are not supposed to be, precisely because of the situation you can hear right now – conflicting orders and people talking over one another – but it is almost unavoidable that as the stress levels increase, people get louder and more people start chiming in.  Some of the noise is unavoidable – for example, watch standers must always repeat an order back to ensure that they heard it properly, and then audibly confirm that the order has been executed – but that bridge is pretty darned loud. 

00:15 – 00:22:  The OOD is explaining a concept that it sometimes takes people a while to understand.  Ships steer from the stern, unlike bicycles, automobiles, and pretty much every other vehicle we are familiar with.  When you have a ship turn left, the first thing that happens is the stern “kicks out” to the right, and then the bow starts moving to the left; this is something you have to bear in mind during underway replenishments, docking maneuvers, and other tight quarters. 

00:28 – 00:31:  “’Base course’ means nothing.”  This is a true statement; all orders involving a direction you want the ship to go should involve an actual number for the bearing, not an assumption that everyone is on the same page. 

00:33 – 00:38:  OOD:  “Rudder amidships.”  Conn:  “Rudder amidships.”  Helmsman:  “Rudder amidships aye.  Rudder is amidships, no new course given.”  In general, Conns are given a little bit of lee-way when it comes to driving ships.  OODs know where the ship is supposed to be going, and that they have to get it there at a certain time, but if a Conn wants to do something along the way to practice ship-driving, and it fits into the schedule, there is no real harm.  In high-risk / high-cost / high-stress situations, though, Conns are basically puppets with either the OOD’s or CO’s hand up their nether region, as this situation shows. 

Helmsmen are basically always repeating stations, doing exactly what the Conn tells them to do, and providing no input into the situation.  Behold:  the chain of command. 

00:46 – 00:55:  When underway, all warships have at least three lookouts on watch all the time – port, starboard, and aft.  These are junior, and I do mean junior, enlisted sailors whose sole job is to scour the horizons and provide an idiot check to the ship’s onboard radars with their Mark 1 Mod 0 Eyeballs.  In this particular case, it sounds like the starboard lookout saw another freighter poking its bow out from behind the freighter the Porter was attempting to avoid.  From the way the OOD was talking, he was looking at the new contact himself while informing the CO of its presence, and he saw a red running light, indicating he was seeing a port aspect on the freighter. 

Why any of the surface search radars onboard the Porter did not pick up this contact is anyone’s guess. 

00:55 – 01:02:  The OOD provides one of the “correct” suggestions in this particular case: come right, and pass the ship port-to-port.  Now, he did say “pass them down their starboard side”, but, at this point, it is fair to say that he was somewhat flustered, and “turn to starboard” turned into “pass them on their starboard”.  Unfortunately, people are fallible, and miscommunications like that are not uncommon when thousands of tons of metal are floating around the ocean near one another. 

From personal experience, OODs getting flustered when the CO is on the bridge is not unheard-of.  You will hear the CO repeatedly asking why the OOD chose a specific course of action on the recorder, and the OOD stumbling for an answer; a lot of that has to do with the intimidation of being interrogated by the CO, but a lot of it also has to do with having to juggle two or ten other things at that moment, and not having enough attention to provide a solid answer.  Understanding thought processes is important, but discussing them is sometimes best saved for times when you are not in close proximity to other ships. 

01:05 – 01:15:  The OOD provides another “correct” suggestion: slow down.  Almost no ill can come of slowing down, so long as the ships in convoy behind you are informed of the decision.  The Porter weighs in a somewhere around 9,000 tons, and when she is moving at 20 knots (20 nautical miles (a NM is 2000 yards) per hour), which she was when she entered this situation, that is a lot of momentum.  DDGs luck out by having variable pitch propellers, which means they can slow down and speed up a lot faster than steam ships, but “faster” does not mean “fast”. 

Speaking of letting the ships around you know of your intentions, why do we not hear the Porter going out on bridge-to-bridge radio trying to make passing arrangements with the ships around them?  On the one hand, freighters very rarely actually have people on their bridges, and the Porter may have given up trying to connect with them.  On the other hand, everyone on the bridge could be busy trying to keep up with the contacts and the situation and it just did not cross their minds.  On the gripping hand, someone could be on B2B, but we cannot hear them on the recorder. 

01:16 – 01:17:  “Why did we come up to flank?”  Good question, CO.  Another good question is when did you come up to flank, and a third good question is why were you not aware of it?  Short of a combat situation, I cannot come up with a good reason to come up to flank in the Straits, and especially not when you are busy avoiding other shipping traffic. 

01:23 – 01:35:  Given that the OOD requests that their speed change be passed on to the ship behind them in formation, and given that the CO indicates the information should be passed over FleetTac (the Navy’s encrypted radio network), someone is obviously on the radio.  It sounds like the OOD was asking the Combat Information Center to pass the speed change, which raises another really good question: where was the CIC in all of this? 

If the bridge drives the ship, the CIC processes all of the information that comes into the ship.  All of the radars, radios, and so forth pass through CIC first on their way to the bridge, and the CIC is responsible for keeping an eye on the overall tactical picture.  Additionally, they maintain parallel navigational and track plots to serve as a backup for the bridge and to further idiot-check everyone.  Finally, the bridge and CIC should be constantly communicating back and forth regarding contacts and such, just so everyone is on the same page.  As far as we can tell from the recording alone (which, in fairness, does not even show us half of the picture), not a lot of that happened.  Now, having spent a lot of time as a CIC Watch Officer, I can tell you that we often felt like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed gos-se – but in that case, you get on the horn with the bridge and ask what on God’s Green Earth is going on up there.  Or you get up out of your chair and find out yourself. 

01:35 – 01:37:  “Passing 230 to the left.”  So, we are in a bad situation because we turned left, we have a ship on our starboard side, and we are still coming left.  I do not know about you, but this seems like something we should tend to… soonish. 

01:38 – 01:46:  But, instead, let us discuss how coming to flank was a bad idea.  Yes, it was a bad idea.  No, the OOD / Conn / whomever made the decision should not have made it without consulting with their CO.  Hell, on both of my old ships, if I rang up flank without checking with the CO first, regardless of where he was, I would be receiving a phone call in very short order asking just what the hell was going on. 

But maybe we should discuss that at another time? 

01:47 – 01:53:  The OOD realizes they are in a bad situation and slowing down is not making it any better. 

01:54 – 02:00:  The OOD recommends turning left, the CO concurs, and orders are given for first left full rudder (generally ~35 degrees) and then hard left rudder (generally ~38 degrees).  I am of two minds about this command.  On the one hand, turning left is bad, for all the reasons we discussed previously.  On the other hand, if your situation looks less like a “T” and more like a backwards “7” when it comes to your course being the vertical line and the other ship’s course being the horizontal line, I can see how turning left could work.  You would end up pointing the “wrong” direction when it comes to transiting the straits, but that beats… well, what happens in a few seconds. 

Unfortunately, at five knots, there is generally insufficient wash over the rudder to make any significant course changes.  Surface ships’ rudders are behind their screws, and if the ship is at all-stop, you can put your rudder in any direction you want and it will not matter.  Conversely, if you put over a hard rudder at flank, you are liable to break something.  A lot of things, really.  On both ships I served on, five knots was just enough to get the bow turning, but certainly not at anything approximating a quick speed. 

As an aside, we generally avoided using “hard” rudder commands on both my ships, as the rudder is probably going to bounce off the stops installed to keep it from bouncing off the hull itself, and those are expensive and time-consuming to replace. 

02:04 – 02:06:  The CO requests “five short” – five short blasts on a ship’s horn is the universal “danger” signal.  If you are underway and you hear that, you immediately look around and try to figure out what is going on and if you are involved. 

02:20 – 02:30:  The OOD asks the CO if he wants the ship to continue coming to port, but the CO orders “steady as she goes”, which is shorthand for “whatever heading you are on right now, come back to it and stay there.”  The helmsman announces that they are coming back to 170, which is not a reciprocal course for the heading they were just on.  This will become important in a moment. 

02:44 – 02:50:  I can only assume that the CO is now realizing that he took a bad situation and made it worse, and literally attempts to dive out of it by ringing up flank speed.  At this point, it is safe to say that the Porter has successfully dropped to five knots – that order was given a minute-and-a-half ago, and before a 100 degree turn; both time and the simple act of turning will have successfully slowed the ship down.  Going from 5 to 35 knots on a DDG is a relatively quick process – they will even “rooster-tail” if the conditions are right – but that term “relatively” is important; we are still talking on the order of minutes. 

“Let’s go, get me up there to flank,” are the words of someone woefully… unaware… of his platforms capacities and limitations.  DDGs are awesome ships, there is no doubt, but physics are a bitch and will not be denied simply because you realized you put yourself in a sticky wicket. 

03:04:  Someone orders five short blasts again. 

03:09 – 03:11:  In what can only be an attempt to mitigate the damage/impact, the CO orders left full rudder. 

USS-Porter-203:14:  The CO’s career is over as the Porter and the M/T Otowasan trade a lot more than paint. 

03:35:  After checking the status of folks on the bridge, “all engines stop” is ordered. 

03:48 – 03:53:  The OOD makes a report to the TAO (Tactical Action Officer, the guy in charge of CIC) that the ship has been hit on the port side, and that they are setting general quarters.  The ship was actually impacted on the starboard side, but, at this point, it is quite safe to say the OOD is more than a little flustered. 

And that is about that. 


So what went wrong?  Where do you want me to start? 

Why did the Porter initially turn left? I sincerely hope there was a compelling reason behind that decision, because the root-cause analysis basically points to that as the pebble that started this avalanche.

Why was the bridge so damned loud?  I have been on some busy bridges and some loud bridges, but in either cases, all of the COs I served under, even the most laid-back amongst them, would have outright demanded silence on the bridge, especially given how chaotic the situation was getting.  On two separate occasions that we could hear, bad information was passed, and I feel certain the distraction of the background noise factored in. 

Why did the CO think now a stressful, complicated, contact-filled transit of one of the most dangerous (militarily speaking) straits in the world was the correct time to take the time to psychoanalyze his subordinates’ decisions and thought processes? 

Why did the CO not relieve the OOD, if not take the Conn himself?  He would be well within his rights and abilities as a CO to do so. 

How the hell was the bridge crew supposed to keep track of who was in charge?  Unfortunately, speaking from experience, this is a systemic problem on warships; when the CO is up on the bridge, as the OOD, it is almost impossible to determine who is in charge of the ship.  By all standards of rank- and position-based authority, the CO is always in charge, but by the same token, the OOD is in charge of the safe navigation and operation of the ship.  You can see how well the conflicting positional authorities worked out in this case with the CO and OOD shouting out conflicting and confusing orders, with the Conn just trying to go with it. 

Why did none of the surface search radars pick up the Otowasan?  DDGs sport AEGIS Combat Systems, which include SPY-1 Phased Array Radars (those big octagonal plates on the sides of the ship’s superstructure), which are supposed to be THE premier radar in the world, and no one thought to pick out that contact?  And why did the lookouts only see it after it passed the disabled ship? 

For that matter, where was the CIC during this entire incident?  They are supposed to serve as a check and balance for the bridge, and, as far as we know/can tell, were largely silent. 

Why did no one question the CO’s / OOD’s decisions to ignore the Rules of the Road?  I can answer it in regards to the CO – people are terrified of them.  COs might as well be God Himself when a ship is underway, and questioning a CO, even when you are right, sometimes especially when you are right, can lead to disastrous consequences down the road.  Unfortunately, the Navy honestly has engendered a “the CO is always right” mentality amongst the crew, and any observation of any chink in that façade is viewed very poorly. 

And Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was happening on the bridge after 01:54?  If you are in that crappy of a situation, and no one is right on your ass (which should have been handled by CIC), then throw it into full reverse and back your way out of it if you have to.  But turning left into a contact that is passing you on the left when you can already see the left side of their ship?  When did that even begin to make sense? 

As the saying goes, no true disaster is the work of one man, and this one involved the efforts of the CO, OOD, CICWO, TAO, and potentially a few other people to boot.  And, yes, for those curious, the CO of the Porter was fired and officially reprimanded, though he appears to still be active duty according to his LinkedIn profile. 

And please understand that I am not trying to disparage those on the bridge or CIC, or their service, or anything like that.  But the fact is, something went wrong – a lot of somethings went wrong – and if we do not take the time to figure out what those were and why they went wrong, then there is no positive value of this incident at all.  But if we can learn from the incident, and try to ensure things like it do not happen again in the future, maybe some good can come out of it. 

If anyone has any issues with what I have said here, feel free to sound off.  If anyone has any further information than what I was able to dig up and present here, feel free to sound off.  If you have first-hand knowledge of the collision and feel like sharing it like was done here, I will happily publish here sanitized of any identifying information to keep it from being traced back to you.  And if you have any questions about anything, please sound off – ship-driving is complicated and not for pansies, and I probably omitted a lot of smaller (and potentially larger) details simply because I did not think to think of them. 

(Image of the damage to the Porter is a U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman/Released.) 

your government, strangely getting results

I came home today to this email from my congresscritter’s office, which was passed on to his district counsel from the State Department: 

I have been advised by our Verification Division that [Linoge] received a Tentative Non-Confirmation (TNC) because his passport record reflected “pending” in the Department of State’s system at the time of the verification inquiry.  Verification placed his case in “continue to process”, and sent a request to the Department of State to confirm the passport was valid.  The Department of State responded today and confirmed the passport is valid, and [Linoge]’s record has been updated to reflect the passport was updated appropriately.  [Linoge] was verified as Employment Authorized on 6/26/14 (this morning). In this particular case, he should not have been referred to the Department of State and we regret any confusion.

Do note that I received my passport in 2005, and I have travelled out of the country on three separate occasions since receiving it; why it was still “pending” in some system somewhere I have no idea. 

I pinged my employer to see if they had heard anything, but no word yet.  I guess the situation is about as fixed as it is going to be. 

your government, still hard at work

Remember this fun story?  It has gotten better.

Shortly after penning up that post, I faxed the Department of Homeland Security a copy of my still-active US Passport, per their request, and under the impression that doing so would allow the situation to be cleared up in “about 24 hours”, to quote the customer service representative I spoke to.

I called back 24 hours later, and was told that they had received my documents but nothing else had transpired.

I called 48 hours after that, and was told that the package was awaiting supervisor approval, but he was out of the office at the moment.

24 hours after that, I gave up and contacted my congresscritter and spoke to his district counsel.  She was tremendously confused why my employer was processing me through E-Verify (I honestly have no idea why they would do so, but I imagine it starts with “C” and ends with “YA”)*, and indicated that they probably could not do much, and certainly nothing on the short term.  She still wanted me to email her the appropriate documentation necessary for them to look into the case, along with another copy of my passport (I thought making copies of passports was illegal?), and said that she would do what she could.  I expressed that even if they were unable to really help the situation any, I would still like to file a complaint through the Representative’s office regarding the DHS’ handling of the situation and general inability to confirm that I am a US citizen.

The district counsel laughed at me.  Literally.  And then proceeded to tell me that would go nowhere.

*sigh*

So, in fairness, the counsel emailed me back today, and indicated that their liaison at the DHS was looking into it.  Out of curiosity, I called up the DHS’ E-Verify line and inquired as to the status of my “tentative nonconfirmation”.

Apparently my case has been passed off to the Department of State.  I asked the customer service representative why, and he literally had no idea.  He did give me a phone number to a call for further questions, which turned out to be the National Passport Information Center, who were very confused why I was calling them, and were, through no fault of their own, no help at all.

For those keeping score at home, the Department of Homeland Security just officially gave up in their attempts to confirm that a natural-born United States Citizen who served in the US Navy and maintained secret and top-secret security clearances is, in actuality and fact, a US Citizen, even after the aforementioned citizen forwarded them a copy of his still-valid US Passport.

I would try to say something witty here, but I am officially at a loss for words.

(* – [Update] After doing my homework, it would appear as though a bill was signed into law in NC in 2011 requiring all employers to E-Verify new employees.  That answers that. [/Update]

yes, this is a pistol

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It amuses me that none of the “flat dark earth” parts actually match.  The total build is as follows: 

Some lessons learned from my second build… 

Buying a lower parts kit from the same manufacturer as the lower alleviated the problems I had with things not fitting, and hopefully purchasing from a “name” manufacturer will prevent exciting problems in the future

I love that Chip McCormick triggers have abandoned spring clips to hold their trigger pins in place, and instead have moved to torx screws on both sides.  I have some concerns that the screws might back out, but Loctite will handle that, and I am much less likely to mar my rifle’s finish with these than with fighting with those bloody clips. 

On a related note, the CMC Flat Trigger is completely incompatible with the Phase 5 EBRv2 Extended Bolt Release, or vice versa, depending on how you look at it.  The bolt release is far enough back in the trigger well, and the flat surface of the trigger is far enough forward, that I can just barely shove my finger between the two, but would end up with beastly blisters on both sides of my finger tip if I actually fired it.  I will be making use of Brownells’ Forever Guarantee to send the trigger group back and replace it with an identical one with a curved trigger – removing the trigger group is easier than removing the bolt release, and I am not sure any other extended bolt releases would not have similar problems. 

And speaking of, the Phase 5 EBRv2 was a pain in the ass to install.  Since that big armature is permanently attached to its right side, you cannot really use pliers to squeeze the roll pin for the bolt catch into place, like you can with “normal” bolt catches.  I figured this would be a more solid assembly, and I was probably right on that count, but I think I will be going with one of the add-on type levers in the future, just to make installation simpler. 

On the other hand, the Dead On Arms pin-less trigger guard was as stupid-simple to install as they advertise it to be.  My only qualifier on heartily recommending their product is that it rattles slightly when installed. 

You can never have too much tape on the pair of pliers you are using to squeeze the bolt catch roll pin into place.  Good I have a touchup pen for black finish… 

Now I just have to decide what upper to drop on it.  I am thinking something chambered in 5.56 with a 7.5” barrel and enough of a forearm to cover the entire barrel up to or slightly past the rear end of a muzzle device that does its best to direct what will probably be copious quantities of muzzle blast forward.  I like that the industry is trending away from cheesegrater hand guards, but I do want the ability to at least mount rail segments that can support an AFG, light, and possibly a forward sight if I do not end up with some other receiver-mounted optic.  Looks like I might have to get someone to build something for me, from the looks of the COTS market. 

And then I will have a 100% legal AR-15 pistol… that just happens to have a funky little device hanging off the back end of it which works pretty well when I hold it against my shoulder and do not blade my body… 

sometimes i give people what they want

Especially when they are so vociferous about it. 

I could kind of look the other way when James Grant arbitrarily proclaimed, based on his own limited, purely-anecdotal experience, that all “teabaggers” (his words, not mine) are racist, while simultaneously proclaiming that the movement is universally comprised of old white people, because sometimes people cannot help themselves from being jerks.  But watching him tell veterans that, unless they are active duty, they should “sit the fuck down, have a coke, and shut the fuck up” if they do not agree with him about not going back into Iraq… well, that sealed the deal for me*. 

So Failure to Fire – a webcomic loosely dealing with firearms, for those not in the know – is officially off my reading list.  There are plenty of funny webcomics out there that do not see a need to repeatedly club you about the head with their assholery, and I recommend you look into reading them instead. 

And, no, I am not going to give links, because I see no need to drive traffic his way; if you are morbidly curious, though, look to the post and comments on 17JUN14 for the most-recent example of the former incident (there are lots of others, but I am not going to waste my time digging for them) and the post and comments on 18JUN14 for the latter. 

On a related note, since John Scalzi all-but** called me a misogynist for being a fan of Larry Correia, and said Larry “looks like a rapist excusing asshole” while callling him a misogynist outright, I see no reason to continue buying his books new.  John is a decent enough author, but if he honestly believes the headline of “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not To Rape” is actually “excusing” rape, he is a blithering moron; Michael Williamson goes into a thorough explanation of why, but the simple summation is this: sociopaths exist, and teaching people how to defend themselves is  far superior tactic than trying to teach sociopaths to not be sociopaths. 

Anywise, John has already made it clear that he does not care if I buy his books, so who am I to argue?  Just means I will have the funds free for a signed copy of Nemesis, which is shiny by me. 

(* – For the record, I, a veteran who spent time in a war zone, do not believe we should go back into Iraq, but that is entirely secondary to the point.) 

(** – John seems to lack the necessary spine to actually say almost anything, instead relying on innuendo and “interpretation”.) 

i r prsntly srs gnblggr

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Hopefully everyone else got theirs today too. 

customer service; you are doing it right

So I have started accumulating parts to build out my never-used bare AR-15 lower I have laying around my safe, and I stumbled across the Pin-Less Trigger Guard offered by Dead On Arms.  At the time, Brownells was sold out, plus they did not offer it in anything but black, so I went ahead and ordered directly from Dead On Arms themselves. 

The part arrived in a few days, but it turns out they shipped me a black one, rather than the flat dark earth color I requested.  I shot them an email late Friday evening asking if I could exchange it for the right color, and this was the response this morning: 

Good Morning,

I am terribly sorry about that. I am sending you out the correct one this morning. No need to exchange, please keep the incorrect one, on us:) Below is the USPS tracking number for the FDE guard being sent out today.

USPS Tracking #: XXXX

Please let me know if there is anything else i can assist you with and again i am so sorry for the inconvenience.

Thank you so much and have a great day!!

That, ladies and gentlepeople, is good customer service.  That is customer service Remington could learn from*.  Hell, the folks at Dead On Arms did not even ask for proof that they sent me the wrong part, they just handled the situation expeditiously and with functionally no impact for me. 

In any case, if the part is as awesome as the company is, I think I will be very satisfied; I will, of course, let everyone know how it goes. 

(* – Yes, I know, there is a radical difference between a $500 gun and a $30 part, but the point remains the same.)

where we were yesterday

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The hike up was only three miles, which does not sound bad, until you realize the altitude gradient looked something like this: 

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(I have no idea what that “796 ft” nonsense is about.) 

Of course, then we drove down the Blue Ridge a little farther, hung out in a cute little town*, and drove home, and then I got up bright and early this morning and spent three hours learning how to take firearms away from people. 

I am down with the whole “not moving” concept right now. 

(* – Floyd, VA is something of a quirky little town, and we got there while there was a small outdoor market thing going on.  There were the usual all-organic whatnots, and all-natural things, and pottery, and art, and whatever else you might find in a town that depends on the tourism of yuppies and nouveau riche, but the conversation we had at the home-made soap booth took the cake.  We were looking at some of the options, and the husband of the proprietor piped up and commented that the soaps labeled “Simply” were scent-free, which would work great if I were a hunter.  He just threw that out there, as if it was nothing. 

I miss living in towns where one can discuss hunting and other firearm-related topics without having to sound-out your conversational partners thoroughly first…) 

i do not get it

I understand muzzle brakes – they are intended to capitalize on the gasses being ejected out the muzzle in such a way that dampens perceived recoil, often at the expense of the ears of everyone around the firearm.  And I understand things like the Noveske KX3 – in addition to “suppressing” flash (i.e. directing it all forward), it also has the added benefit of forcing all of the muzzle blast forward as well, reducing the perceived noise for the user. 

I do not really understand why you would take the two concepts and wrap the former in the latter

kinetitechmuzzlebrakeIt has been a while since I took Statics and Dynamics, and S&D is only a very, very rudimentary proxy for Fluid Dynamics, but it would seem as though if you took a gas, vectored it out one direction and then right into a wall connected to the very thing doing the vectoring, you would be counteracting exactly what you wanted that gas to be doing. 

On the other hand, I have started building out a bare AR lower into an AR pistol, and the idea of a muzzle attachment that reduces the perceived noise for the user is something that appeals to me greatly, especially given that I am eyeing 7.5” barrels*.  I had been considering a Levang Linear Compensator for the purpose, since I am a little cheap for the KX3, but I have to wonder why companies do not make something like the Kineti-Tech “Muzzle Brake with Sound Director”, only leave out the “Muzzle Brake” part in the process? 

(* – No, I am nowhere near badass enough to sport one of these, much to my chagrin.) 

(Found by way of The Firearm Blog.  Image borrowed from Kineti-Tech.) 

something i did not know

As I briefly, previously alluded, I will be starting new employment in the near future.  The job is a contract-with-intent-to-hire position, which is not exactly what I was looking for, but, at this point, a paycheck is a paycheck, and it gets my foot into both an industry and a job title I think I would be interested in, so go me. 

Where my ignorance came into play, and, honestly, bit me in my arse, was in terms of the negotiations.  I was under the impression that contract positions were like full-time positions, where I name a salary number, that is treated as a starting point, and we go from there.  This was woefully incorrect. 

The negotiations for my salary started, and ended, when the recruiter looking to fill the contract asked me what I wanted to be paid.  He then put together a “package” that he submitted to my prospective employer, and they accepted it after I passed their interviews. 

But the catch is the package is what they accepted, and it was locked in as soon as the recruiter passed it on to them. 

Would my prospective employer have accepted the package if I asked for more money?  I certainly hope so, considering I will be asking them for more money when they bring me onboard as a full-time, regular employee.  Could I have potentially priced myself out of employment?  Absolutely.  Which is one of the reasons I hate the modern form of salary negotiations where the employee has to throw out a number first (and, yes, I have tried a variety of ways to dodge that question, but it invariably comes down to me naming a number).  But that “price myself out” problem is why my number started out as low as it did. 

Anywise, learn from my misunderstanding – when it comes to contract-based employment negotiations, always give your recruiter/contact a number you will be happy with.  I am happy with the number I gave mine, but I certainly could be happier… 

tiwhatnraam – choate machine and tool’s emergency car tool

Choate Machine and Tool is definitely an interesting company, where form always comes after function.  I would never go so far as to call any of their products singularly attractive in any aesthetic way, but they all appear to work just fine, and often have really useful features included at a very affordable price. 

In fact, if they had one at the NRAAM, I would have forked over for one of their Tactical Remington 700 Short Action ADL stocks with full-length aluminum bedding, especially since they were offering a screaming convention price; unfortunately, all of the models they had on-hand were equipped for removable magazine baseplates rather than the factory Remington one. 

Anywise, while Fuzzy and I were talking with the remarkably helpful folks at the Choate booth, I happened to ask about a random little thing they had on their table; specifically, their Car Rescue Tool

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Apparently this little tool was created after some Choate employees saw a couple of other folks in serious car accidents where they were unable to get their seatbelts to disengage or open their doors. 

It is an unfortunate truth that if you lock up your seatbelt hard enough, it will not release at the button, which is where that double-bladed-and-hooked razor blade comes in.  I do not have any webbing I want to destroy, but after playing around with it on paper, it would seem to have no problems tackling a seat belt. 

On the other end is a molded-in Phillips-head screwdriver bit, which functions just fine for turning screws, but also doubles as a glass-breaking implement.  Put your fingers through the holes, cover your face with your other hand, and swing the point of that hard into your side window, and it should shatter.  Safety glass beads are nowhere near as “safe” as their name would lead one to believe, but it beats being trapped in a car when your door latch refuses to work. 

Finally, for less-catastrophic events, that straight edge above the finger holes is designed as an ice-scraper, should the need arise. 

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Of course, if you do not get a couple of ideas for how else this handy little tool can be used, you need to hang out on this guy’s site a little more. 

One thing this particular device has on a lot of its competition is its mounting methods – most of them come with their own brackets that are meant to be screwed into interior trim, and not many people are too keen on putting holes in their cars.  The folks at Choate recommend using the finger-holes and a few strands of dental floss to tie this thing where you know it would be after an accident – under your seat or your dash, for example.  Single strands of floss are fairly easy to break by hand, but probably will not snap in an accident, and do no permanent damage to your car. 

The only catch with this particular unit is that once you factor in shipping you can procure two of these “original” Life Hammers for the same price; granted, you have to figure out how to mount those, and they are not Made in the USA, but it is something Choate should consider. 

your government, hard at work

Why do I oppose firearm registrations?  Well, one of the many reasons is that the government cannot seem to keep track of the registries it has already. 

For those of you who do not follow me on the Book of Faces, I seem to have acquired employment, and hopefully start getting paid again on this coming Monday.  In order to facilitate that, my employer has to run background checks on me, as well as verify that I am eligible to work here in the US (in short, be a citizen or legal alien). 

When I was born, I was, of course, enrolled in the government-run Ponzi scheme known as “Social Security”, and of course have a unique identifier number to go along with it.  Likewise, since I have been out of the States on occasion, I have a passport with its own, disjoint unique identifier number on it. 

Apparently the Department of Homeland Security, in all of its infinite wisdom, firmly believes that some combination of my birthdate, my SSN, and my passport number do not match, and is therefore tossing an E-Verify “Tentative Noncomfirmation” back at my prospective employer and me. 

The best part?  It is on me, the private citizen, to unscrew this idiotic federal Charlie Foxtrot.  I have verified the information repeatedly now, I have held multiple security clearances, I have passed more background checks than I care to count, and I am obviously an American citizen, but the DHS is refusing to own up to it. 

If the FedGov cannot keep track of essential data like who is or is not a citizen and what identification numbers are or are not tied to the person in question, how good of a job do you honestly think they will do when it comes to keeping track of non-essential data like who owns what firearm?  Do you think no-knock raids are bad now?  Just wait until tac’d-out door-kickers hit up Jane Smith, 90-year-old arthritic grandmother, because James Smith has an “assault weapon” he neglected to inform the feds about. 

When did “land of the free” get replaced with “papiere, bitte!”? 

compies go “squish”

This game is totally worth $1 – as one of the reviewers says, you get to take on a T-Rex in a mech.  Do I really need to say anything else? 

(Ignore the Metacritic score; apparently this game has evolved over the years and they have never seen fit to re-review it.) 

tiwhatnraam – a. g. russell’s odin’s eye

So on the last day of the NRA Annual Meetings, we arrived in the Media Room and noticed that someone had left sheets on all the tables proclaiming, “Writers, we have a present for your wives! Stop by booth #XXXX to pick it up!”* 

I will not lie, we did not really make any serious plans to actually do so, but by complete happenstance we stumbled across the booth, which happened to be owned – and manned – by none other than A. G. Russell himself.  Let me get my fanboyism out of the way and just say that Mr. Russell is an outstanding individual, and it was a distinct pleasure to be able to chat with him about his business and what he does.  I will not lie – I have lusted after a few of his knives for quite some time, but I have never really reminded myself of that when I happened to have the necessary money free. 

Anywise, the gift Mr. Russell had for us was, predictably, a knife – specifically, one of his Odin’s Eyes

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As you can tell, this is meant to be a “punch” knife, with one of your fingers through the hole, which is just a hair over an inch in diameter.  The knife comes with a ball chain for neck carry and a keychain ring for attaching it there, with both accessories fitting through a loop at the tip of the sheath.  The blade is made of 8Cr13MoV steel, for those of you who know what that means, and is about 1.75” long overall and has about 1.5” of edge.  It is important to note that this is a double-edged knife (and both are double-bevel edges, not chisel grinds), and thus may not be legal in all jurisdictions.  Additionally, the knife is manufactured in China, but Mr. Russell has an honest explanation for that

Anywise, the gift was only half the experience – the other half was Mr. Russell explaining exactly how he came up with the idea and who he intended it for.  To put it very simply, Mr. Russell is very much on our side, in that he very much believes in and supports the right of self-defense, and by that I mean he wants people to be able to do whatever is necessary to stop a threat against their person. 

His concept for the Odin’s Eye (and please bear in mind this is all hypothetical / fictional) was that a woman was walking back to her car after work one day, alone and in a darkened parking deck.  An assailant approached her and she held out her full keychain in her off hand and shook it at him, indicating she would whack him with it if he came any closer, and screamed at him to go away.  He continued to close the distance, making all outward indications of wanting to physically assault her; she put her off hand to her side as if she were prepping to do a swinging backfist at him… and then hacks and slashes at his face with her Odin’s Eye in her dominant hand once he was close enough.  The knife was on her keychain, and she used the distraction of the keys itself to draw it.  Mr. Russell was quite clear that he meant this knife to only be deployed as a surprise, and that he wanted folks to consider slashing their opponents diagonally across their face one way, and then diagonally across their face the other way, to get the full impact. 

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His demonstrations were quite energetic, involving demonstrating the slashes and targets he had in mind… on me.  With a sheathed knife, and at a distance, of course. 

Perhaps the best part was at the conclusion of his demonstration, where he indicated the victim should just go home and have a stiff drink to steady her nerves after successfully defending herself.  I commented that calling the cops might be good as well, and his response was something along the lines of, “Oh, yes, that too, if you think of it.” 

The man is not wrong, though; I would never suggest a push dagger as a primary defensive tool, but as a back-up or emergency tool, the simple truth is that punching is a natural movement, and if that punch happens to have something sharp-and-pointy included with it, all the better.  Once you get your finger through the hole, you are not going to drop this knife, and even flailing becomes a potentially lethal threat to your assailant.  I am sanguine with that, and apparently Mr. Russell is too. 

(* – As I was talking with some of the folks behind the booth with Mr. Russell, one of the ladies there passed on a story that the sign they left in the media room was not a hit with everyone.  Apparently a female media person – I do not know who so asking me will be of little use – came by the booth and vociferously expressed her displeasure at the gender-specific phrasing of the signs.  I will not deny that “spouse” would have been a better term to use, but the truth is an older man from a past generation was trying to be nice and give a family member – or you, he did not actually require people to be married – a gift, regardless of how he phrased it.  Sometimes we are embarrassed by what old folks do, but the polite thing to do is to smile, say “Thank you,” and move on with your life.  Or maybe I was just raised right.  (And, yes, I have run this line of reasoning past Better Half and she agrees.))