Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Got another Ruger Mini-14

(Cross-posted from Blog O'Stuff.)
It was cold and windy today so I didn't feel like hitting the range. I did however, go up to Surplus City with a couple of guns which I haven't shot in quite awhile, and did some trading. In exchange for my EMF/Rossi Hartford Model 1892 and my Ruger GP-100, plus some boot, I picked up a used stainless steel Ruger Mini-14 GB. It's a 186-series piece. It came with one Ruger factory mag (stainless, no less) and I bought two more Ruger factory mags, both used. (I figure I should get as many evil high capacity magazines as I can while the getting is still good.)

The GB or Government Model differs from the standard Mini-14 with the addition of a flash suppressor screwed onto the muzzle, and a winged front sight several inches back. The front sight block also has a bayonet lug, and the gun will accept standard M-16 bayonets. (Raspberries to Senator Feinstein and her partners in crime.) The GBs were never intended to be sold directly to the public by Ruger, but a fair number of them have become available as police or prison guard trade-ins, as many departments "upgrade" by replacing their Mini-14s with AR-15s.

I really like Mini-14s. They are not as accurate at AR-15s (at least without serious tuning) but they are very simple, ergonomic, and reliable little rifles. Mini-14s are accurate enough for their intended purposes -- potting varmints around a farm or as a social carbine out to a couple of hundred yards.

Getting back to the reliability aspect -- Mini-14s are much less finicky when it comes to maintenance or quality ammo than AR-15s. For example, Wolf .223 doesn't run well in my Colt AR-15A3, but runs just fine in my 182-series Mini-14. I expect it to work fine in the GB. A couple of features which help the Mini-14's reliability are (a) the fact that it taps more than enough gas from the barrel to work the action, and (b) fouling stays out of the action. IOW, it doesn't have the "shits where it eats" problem of the AR-15. Note that the AR-15's direct-impingement (DI) gas system can be reliable, but it demands more cleaning, and that more recent military rifle designs all use pistons, not DI.

One of my online friends used a stainless Mini-14 in Alaska for many years, taking a large number of deer and other game with it. It stood up to harsh conditions well and he still has the rifle, now that he's retired to WV. .223 isn't really a deer caliber but it will do if you take your time and place the bullets right. Perhaps surprisingly to guys in the lower 48, but the Mini-14 is one of the most popular bush guns in AK. It and it's ammo are light. It's reliable and easy to maintain, and has minimal recoil, so a lot of Alaskan natives like it. A stainless Mini-14 in a plastic stock would be a heck of a good choice as a defensive carbine, especially if you need one to keep on a boat.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

FCC Drops Morse Code Requirment for Ham Radio

The FCC is finally dropping the Morse code (AKA "CW") requirement for all classes of amateur radio license. The official license is here (PDF document). The international governing body for amateur radio dropped the requirement several years ago, and several countries had already followed suit, e.g., Germany and Italy, IIRC.

IMHO, this is a good thing. CW is a mode of operation, not a guarantee that someone isn't a schmuck. Yes, CW is useful and I'm glad that portions of the bands are still reserved for CW. But not everyone is interested in it, and many people just cannot learn it even with a lot of study. I've spoken with several General Class hams who've not used it since getting their license. Operators will still need to pass the written exams on radio technology and proper operating procedures before getting a licence.

One reason many hams didn't want the code requirement dropped is because CW can get through poor conditions better than voice on AM or Single Side Band. However, there are new operating modes, such as PSK-31, which use as little bandwidth as CW, perhaps even less, so they work as well in adverse conditions as CW. (I'm especially interested in PSK-31 since it's a way to bridge my interests in computers and radio.)

Time for me to start studying for the Element 3 exam.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In Praise of the Non-Tactical Pocketknife

For most of the past 10 years my pocketknife has been a "tactical" folder. First, it was a Spyderco Delica. When I lost the Delica (found it 3 months later) a few years ago, I replaced it with a Benchmade Griptilian. I've been very happy with both knives. They are well made, hold a nice edge, lock securely, and need only one hand to open.

Last weekend I dug out my old Victorinox Pioneer Swiss Army Knife (SWAK). I've had this since sometime in the early '80s. Unlike the current production silver-colored Pioneers the aluminum handle scales on mine have a red oxide finish. It has a spear point blade, bottle opener, can opener, large and small screwdriver blades, a wire stripper notch on the bottle opener, a reamer/awl, and a key ring. It's the same as the real issue SWAK or "Soldier," with the exception of the key ring. Picking up the Pioneer felt like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

I carried my SWAK for years. It accompanied me on a six week trip to Europe in 1984, following me behind the Iron Curtain into Hungary and Yugoslavia and back. I've used it to cut stuff, tighten and loosen screws, pop open sodas and beers, and poke holes in things with the reamer. In other words, it can do a lot more than a knife with only a blade.

My job is in an office pushing bits and bytes around. Dress is business casual. I'd look goofy with a multitool on my belt. Like it or not, fashion can influence knife choice. (And I'm hardly a fashion plate.) And as for tacticality, the closest I have to training in knfe fighting is a semester of fencing in college, close to 20 years ago.

So, Sunday I checked the edge (still shaving sharp after a few years languishing in the handlebar bag on my mountain bike, out in a shed) and sprayed out some dust with some Superlube dry teflon lubricant from a can, and since then I've been carrying the Pioneer instead of my Benchmade. It fits nicely in my pocket like it belongs there and offers more functionality than the Griptilian. The only real advantage the latter has is one-hand opening.

I'm liking having my old friend with me once again. I may even order another one or two to stash away for the future or in an emergency kit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Power Failure

Getting my ham radio setup with a battery backup came not a moment too soon. Friday night, the power went out.

Last Friday we had a cold front come through, bringing with it high winds. About 2030, the wind blew one of the trees in our yard into the power line feeding us from the pole. Sparks, pops, and groaning noises followed and the power went out.

Out came the flashlights, candles, and my D-cell powered Coleman flourescent lantern.

My wife called PECO and reported the outage. We use Vonage for our phone service and my home LAN is on two APC UPSes so we had phone service and cable modem Internet access until I shut them off to conserve power. In the meantime, we had our cell phones if we had needed to call anyone.

At about 2200 - 2230 we got some power back. A couple of the circuits came back but we had no power upstairs in our bedrooms, nor for the heater (natural gas but the blower requires electric). If things had gone on longer than they did we could still use our gas fireplace, however. Fortuitously, the refrigerator was on a circuit with power.

Meanwhile, I spent some time on the radio and caught the tail end of a Skywarn net. The PowerGate/gel cell setup worked perfectly. I'd done a test run on battery power last Thursday night when I checked into the MARC club net, and got good signal reports.

Saturday morning at about 0930 PECO tech came out. He went and looked at the pole and saw a mass of vegetation which had grown up along it, and that the insulators separating the three feed lines were broken. Due to the vegetation he needed to call for a crew to come out, climb the pole, and defoliate, then fix the connection. (A crew was out over the Summer clearing vegetation away from the wires and pole in my neighbor's yard but apparently they didn't get enough.)

The reason we had some power was that we were getting 110V into the house, not the full 220V. He jumpered the live 110V part to the other part, so we at least had 110V throughout the house, enough to run our heater.

An hour and a half later the crew showed up. They ended up replacing the line from the pole to our house, but I'll need to have an electrician replace the feeder line from the head to the service. (Good thing I have a close friend who's a master electrician.) However, they had to shut power back off for a few hours while they worked. We were back to status quo ante around 1500 Saturday.

Yesterday I went and pruned the tree which had swayed into the line. I'm hoping the reduced wind load will make it steadier. If it does sway or fall it shouldn't take out the power, however, since the PECO crew Saturday rerouted the line. It will drop the currently-unused Verizon phone line, and the heavily-used Comcast cable line, so I do want the tree removed fairly soon.