Saturday, May 31, 2014

The only known color footage of D-Day

I wasn't aware of the World War II work of director George Stevens until I read this report.

When the warship HMS Belfast fired the shot that launched the D-Day landings, it was carrying an unlikely passenger - Hollywood film director George Stevens.

With Allied forces set to storm the Normandy beaches of Nazi-occupied France, Stevens was on-board making a unique 16 millimetre colour film journal.

He had made his name in the 1930s, directing the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 'Swing Time' (1936) and Cary Grant in 'Gunga Din' (1939).

But in 1942, after seeing Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda movies, Stevens enlisted.

General Dwight Eisenhower assigned him to head up the combat motion-picture coverage, a unit covering the war in black-and-white 35 millimetre film for newsreels and military archives.

But while documenting the Allied forces' advance towards Berlin, he took with him a 16 millimetre camera and boxes of Kodachrome film on which he would shoot a personal visual diary of the war.

The film canisters of the war were developed back in the US, but Stevens stored them and for decades they went untouched.

That changed when his son, George Stevens Jr, also a filmmaker, decided to make a documentary on his father's life and was amazed to discover what he found.

An emotional Stevens remembers the first time he watched the films, astonished to see his young father heading to France on HMS Belfast.

"This film came on and it was sort of grey-blue skies and barrage balloons, those big things that hung in the sky, and it was on a ship. It turned out (to be) the HMS Belfast, and it was suddenly I realised the morning of the 6th of June, the beginning of the greatest seaborne invasion in history," he said in a recent interview.

"I had this feeling that my eyes were the first eyes that hadn't been there who were seeing this day in colour, and I watched this film unfold and on this ship - and all of these men with their flak jackets and anticipation of this day - and around a corner on the ship comes this man - helmet and jacket - and walks into a close-up, and it's my 37-year-old father. It was so moving."

George Stevens died in 1975.

At some point after his death, his son took the best of his father's colour film and in 1994 produced a documentary entitled "George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin".

There's more at the link.

Intrigued, I looked for the documentary, and found a copy on YouTube.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

I'm very glad to have learned of this film.  It's a real piece of living history.


Should 'Detroit' be renamed 'Detritus'?

I was staggered to read about the size and cost of Detroit's cleanup problem.

A joint federal, city, and state task force has done a survey of every inch of the Motor City and discovered that fully 30 percent of it is filled with dilapidated, crumbling buildings that must be torn down.

That is 84,641 building spread out over all 139 square miles of the city that need to be eliminated, The New York Times reports. The study also found that 90 percent of the city-owned parcels are blighted.

This $850 million is only the beginning, a starting point that will deal with the blight of abandoned single-family homes or small complexes. This huge cost doesn't address the 559 empty, abandoned, dilapidated manufacturing buildings that can no longer be used and must be torn down.

"These structures are unique because of their larger size and their potential for greater environmental issues than other structures," the Times said the report affirms. "The cost of demolishing just a single large industrial building can run into the tens of millions of dollars," the paper says.

. . .

Still, where will all this money come from? Detroit is a bankrupt city and hasn't the funds for police and fire services, much less for tearing down and disposing of the debris from thousands of abandoned buildings.

The city itself and the state of Michigan is relying on the federal government for much of this money, naturally. So, the American taxpayer from Maine to Florida and all points west will be on the hook to bail out Detroit after decades of failed political policies that helped run the once vital city into a near universal condition of blight.

There's more at the link.

I'm outraged to read that 'The city itself and the state of Michigan is relying on the federal government for much of this money, naturally'.  Why 'naturally'?  Why should the federal government be on the hook for this cost?  I don't see any rhyme or reason why my federal taxes should be wasted on cleaning up someone else's problem.  Let the city find its own solutions - including asking those drawing welfare and/or unemployment benefits to help tear down derelict buildings and clean up abandoned properties.  Let them do something useful for a living!


Remembering a remarkable doctor

I was pleased to read that a memorial is at last to be erected to the memory of Sir Archibald McIndoe, the pioneering burn surgeon of World War II.  The Telegraph reports:

Sir Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon who treated desperately disfigured servicemen during the Second World War, died on April 11 1960, aged just 59. On June 9 this year ... his achievements will be set forever in stone and bronze, when a monument to him is unveiled by the Princess Royal in East Grinstead, home to the hospital where he worked. And by an extraordinary twist of fate, the story behind the statue is every bit as remarkable as the courage and commitment he and his patients displayed 70 years ago.

Most of those patients were airmen, caught in the inferno of a crashed bomber, or trapped in the cockpits of their Spitfires and Hurricanes as bullet-riddled fuel tanks erupted in flames around them. Such were McIndoe’s efforts on their behalf that his premature death was, even 15 years after the war ended, still the stuff of front pages. As the Evening News recounted in the headline of its tribute, “He Gave New Faces To Battle of Britain Fliers”.

But he did more than that. According to Jack Perry, one of McIndoe’s last surviving patients, who suffered 80 per cent burns in 1944 when his Halifax bomber caught fire just after take off, McIndoe gave those for whom he cared a new sense of purpose in life, a new reason to live.

“I owe him 100 per cent,” said Mr Perry. “He was just an absolutely wonderful man. He put you at your ease immediately. He said: 'You’re going to be OK. We’re going to fix you up’.”

In the end McIndoe and his team in West Sussex “fixed up” 649 servicemen – men who underwent such innovative treatment that they rakishly dubbed themselves The Guinea Pig Club.

Their disfigurement meant the possibility of being shunned by sweethearts and friends, their lives blighted. So McIndoe not only treated them, he also stood up for them. “He had enormous battles with the authorities,” says Montfort Bebb, now 86. “He said, 'You treat my boys properly.’ He even had a keg of beer for them in the ward. He had to give them the odd dressing-down, they were young men – they did misbehave – but they loved him.”

There's more at the link.

Here's a brief video documentary about Sir Archibald and his patients.

I knew a member of the Guinea Pig Club in South Africa.  He was pretty badly disfigured despite all the surgery Sir Archibald and his team had performed, but assured me he was still very grateful for their efforts, "because until they worked their miracles I didn't have a face at all".

I'm glad to see such an honorable and selfless man of medicine being given the respect that is his due.  The surgical procedures he pioneered are still in use today.


'War To The Knife' it is

Thanks to everyone who responded to my request last night, both in a comment to that post and in e-mails.  I think I'm going to go ahead and use 'War To The Knife' as the title of my latest novel.  It's not familiar to many respondents, but enough have said that they know it and/or that it would arouse their interest to make it worth using, IMHO.  I may follow one person's suggestion and explain the term in the blurb.  We'll see what Miss D. has to say about that (she's the world's fiercest blurb critic!).

Now to edit the manuscript, incorporate all the feedback from my alpha and beta readers, and get it ready.  Oleg and I will get together next weekend to finalize the cover (I've already picked out the art), and it'll 'go live' sometime the following week.  Watch this space for more details!  It's a lot of work doing everything myself, but it's also fun.  I can control the entire creative process and work as fast (or as slowly) as I like.  That's a lot better than having to depend on a publisher to fit in your book among all the others they're trying to prepare and promote, and probably not giving you much of a priority if you're not one of their best-selling authors.

I think this book's my best yet, and my readers have said much the same thing.  I hope you'll enjoy it.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Led Zeppelin - remastered!

I was very happy to read that the first three Led Zeppelin albums from 1969-70 are being remastered, and will be re-released on June 2nd.  The Telegraph has an interview with Jimmy Page about the project.

These recordings still sound so crisp, vivid and present, every instrument sharp and separated and occupying its own space. Page has remastered this material before but this time, he says, he has future-proofed it. “Zeppelin vinyl is quite revered in audiophile circles,” according to Page. “But if you are in the business of making music to be heard you’ve got to assess how it is being listened to. In all that time span, there’s so many new formats, so much new technology, so I thought the most sensible thing to do was be prepared with super-high-resolution files for whatever may come.”

The debut album sets it all out, from that fantastic high-impact opening, to the acoustic folk flavours and shifting dynamics of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, the hypnotic spell of Dazed and Confused, weird and wonky eastern chordal shifts of Black Mountain Side and startling prescient punk blast of Communication Breakdown. It’s all there, a vision of the future of rock that still rings true even now that rock’s future itself seems in doubt. If the album were released this year by a band of young gunslingers, although perhaps not expressing anything new it would certainly still make an impact because it is just too good not to.

The second Zeppelin album is even better, kicking off with the ultimate riff of Whole Lotta Love, refining the vision without sacrificing anything. The third album deepens and expands on the folk flavours and other sonic dimensions, weaving a very different spell, finding space for the mind-blowing Since I’ve Been Loving You, perhaps the most gorgeous, soulful rock ballad ever recorded. There’s an early take of that among the extra tracks, a raw mix that lays bare the incredible interaction of the players, as they hold back and wait each other out, building tension in the spaces, vocals stretching over Jones’s sinuous organ parts, until everyone comes in around Bonham’s explosive drums as if united by some kind of psychic bond. “It was never gladiatorial,” says Page. “This band was really listening intently to each other, improvising and moving things around, it was always interesting.”

Although there was no leftover material at all from sessions for the original album, which was recorded and mixed in just 30 hours, Page has unearthed a fantastic live recording of a 1969 show at the Paris Olympia. This is Led Zeppelin in their primal majesty, completely locked together, performing with none of the loops, sequencers, choral effects and pre-recorded triggers that buoy the sound of almost every band of the modern era: just four fantastic musicians on a mission.

There's more at the link.

From their first album, here's the iconic 'Dazed And Confused' (not the remastered version).

Needless to say, these albums go straight onto my shopping list!


Book title question

I'm trying to come up with a suitable title for my latest novel.  I'm thinking of 'War To The Knife', which is a phrase I know from my youth (the Free Dictionary offers this definition of it).  However, Miss D. tells me she's never heard the phrase before, and isn't sure whether it's widely known and/or used in the USA.  I can believe it's more used in English-English than in American-English, but I just don't know.

Therefore, here's a question for my readers.  How many of you are familiar with that phrase and understand what it means?  If I were to use it as the title of a book, would it make sense to you?  If it would, I'll use it;  but if not, I'll try to find something more meaningful to my main market in the USA.

Thanks for your help.


Picture of the day

The Royal Navy apparently has an annual photography competition, the Peregrine Trophy.  According to its Web site:

The award’s primary purpose is to encourage the production of eye-catching, powerful imagery that can be used in the media to demonstrate the Royal Navy and Royal Marine’s operations. The role of photography, portraying the work of the Royal Navy has never been more important.

Media operations have great operational significance and successful public relations are a key aspect of taking our message to an increasingly sophisticated public.

The Peregrine Trophy dates back to 1961 and is named after the HMS Peregrine Royal Naval Air Station in Sussex.

There's more at the link.

This year's winners have just been announced.  The British edition of the Huffington Post has an excellent feature article about them.  This one in particular caught my eye.  It shows the Westland Lynx HMA8 helicopter of the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon firing all 60 of its decoy flares in a spectacular pattern over the ship at dusk.  Click the image for a much larger view.

There are many more images at the link.  Interesting viewing.


Doofus Of The Day #774

Today's award goes to a particularly dumb crook in Detroit.

A man was killed at 11 p.m. Monday, when two men were reportedly assaulting a victim near the intersection of St. Mary’s and Elmira on the northwest side. “One of the men was pistol-whipping the victim when his gun went off, and his partner was shot in the neck,” Dolunt said.

There's more at the link.

Pistol-whipping someone with a loaded gun?  Now there's a negligent discharge looking for a place to happen . . . and it found one!  Fortunately it hit the right guy (from the crime victim's point of view, that is).


Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's finished!

Today I finished the last chapter of my new novel.  It rounds out at 99,877 words at the time of writing, although that'll change slightly as I edit it.  Now I have to whip it into order, incorporate changes suggested by the latest round of reader feedback, and prepare the manuscript for publication.  I'm hoping to have it out in time for my presentation at LibertyCon over the last weekend in June.  I hope that'll give me a sales boost, too.

Thanks for your patience with slightly irregular blogging while I worked so hard on the manuscript.  I'm afraid that's one of the perils of a writer's life.


About that non-existent housing recovery . . .

I've warned on several previous occasions that the much-hyped 'housing market recovery' isn't a recovery at all - in fact, the housing market's mired in a slump that's actually getting worse.  All the estate agents advertising that 'There's never been a better time to buy/sell your home' (delete whichever verb isn't applicable) are basically lying in their teeth in most markets.

That's just been confirmed by no less an authority than Freddie Mac.

The bad news keeps piling up on the housing front, this time with glum statistics from mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which declared Wednesday that many of the nation’s housing markets are stalling.

The third installment of Freddie’s “Multi-Indicator Market Index” (or MiMi), which sizes up homebuying activity and other factors, found that only 10 states and the District of Columbia fall in the “stable” range, as do four of the 50 metro areas included in the index – San Antonio, New Orleans, Austin and Houston.

The outlook for the rest of the housing market looks bleak. “Less than half of the housing markets MiMi covers are showing an improving trend, whereas at this time last year more than 90 percent of these same markets were headed in the right direction,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie’s chief economist, said in a statement.

. . .

Even before the index came out, Freddie had revised its forecast for the housing market downward. Earlier this month, Nothaft said there are “various imbalances” holding it back, most notably the job market. “Housing needs stronger, and just as important, sustained levels of job creation to get the housing engine firing on all cylinders,” he said.

Other industry gauges show that sales of existing homes were down nearly 7 percent from the same time a year ago, home prices are starting to moderate, and builders still lack confidence in the housing market.

There's more at the link.  Sobering reading, and very important for every property-owner.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I believe the housing market is headed for another correction at least as severe as the last one, possibly worse, because consumers are 'tapped out'.  They simply can't afford (or qualify for) the kind of loans that will be needed to buy expensive homes - which means prices will have to drop.  Furthermore, older couples looking to downsize to smaller houses or condos for their retirement years have a huge problem.  They expected to be able to sell their McMansions to up-and-coming younger buyers who needed the space.  Now those younger buyers can't afford what the older folks think their big houses are worth.  The latter can't afford to drop their prices (because otherwise they can't settle their mortgages and have enough left over to put down a deposit on their retirement home), but neither can they afford to keep up payments on those mortgages, given their reduced retirement income.  They're in a world of hurt.  So is everyone in the housing market who hopes to build and/or sell their retirement homes to them.  Except for certain high-demand markets, their buyers have dried up.

I can't make decisions for anyone else;  but if I owned property right now that I was thinking about selling, I'd do so at once, even taking a loss on it if need be, because I probably won't get a better opportunity for some time to come.  On the other hand, if I were looking to buy property, I'd hold off for a while longer.  In a year or two I expect I'll be able to get a lot more for my money.


Picture of the day

The Jordan family of Australia is hand-raising a six-week-old barn owl who's adopted their ten-month-old daughter Charlotte as 'mom'.

Raised from a chick, the yet-to-be-named owlet hangs out in the Jordan family’s Sunshine Coast home, doing everyday human things.

“He loves watching TV and he watches us eating our dinner,” said Raptor Vision wildlife carer Crystal Jordan.

Owlet spends most of his time in his special brooder but emerges during the day to spend human time with Charlotte.

“Once a day we’ll put him on the ground beside Charlotte so he can get used to smaller kids,” said Mrs Jordan.

There's more at the link, including more photographs.

Isn't that picture just too saccharine-sweet cute for words?


Does this new world record go to one's 'head'?

I'm obliged to Paul S. for sending me the link to this story.

James Nielsen of California trained hard and studied hard. His work paid off.

Nielsen posted a video of himself attempting to run under 5 minutes in the beer mile. Nielson made his attempt Sunday.

. . .

What is the beer mile, you ask? Drink a beer, run a lap, repeat. Drink four beers, run four laps, don't throw up and you've run a beer mile. keeps track of "official records" and lists Josh Harris of Melbourne, Australia as the beer mile record holder with a time of 5:04.9.

. . .

Nielsen finished in 4:57, then got a ride home from his wife.

There's more at the link.  Here's a video report on the 'record'.  Note the cheerleaders at the very end.

Congratulations to the new record-holder.  Now, let's see him do that again - this time downing a dram of Scotch between each lap . . .


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A beautiful look at the C-17 Globemaster III

Here's a lovely music video dealing with the C-17 Globemaster III military transport, pictured over the mountains and coasts of California.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making that.  One doesn't normally think of military transport aircraft as being particularly attractive or good-looking, but that video is enough to make one reconsider.


Every Hubble picture ever taken

For those who are fans of space photography (stars, planets and everything in between) the Hubble space telescope has long been a mainstay for images of high clarity.

Now you can see every Hubble image ever taken at Hubblesite's gallery.  It's an amazing collection of photographs and composite images from the earliest days of the project until the present.  Here are just a few of the thousands of pictures available there.  Click on each one to be taken to its Hubblesite page.

A "Rose" Made of Galaxies

Centaurus A galaxy

Composite Image of Jupiter Storms

The Colorful Demise of a Sun-like Star

There are many more at the link.  All can be downloaded in various sizes, many big enough to be desktop wallpaper.  Highly recommended.


A ski shop - in the Sahara desert???

My mind boggled a bit when I read this report.

Around 30 years ago, an entrepreneur from Niger spotted a gap in the market that he thought nobody else could fill - a ski-hire shop in the Sahara desert. He is still in the ski-rental business to this day even though he has no customers.

. . .

This is Agadez, a dusty marketplace in Niger surrounded by the Sahara desert, not Courchevel in the French Alps.

The temperature here rises above 45C and when there is a bit of air it feels like somebody is holding a hairdryer right in your face.

Nobody has picked up any of these skis since 2007. Abdelkader Baba, the shop's owner, has not used them himself since then either.

He would not go skiing without tourists and they just don't venture around here anymore - kidnappings and armed attacks have kept them away.

. . .

Baba used to take tourists to the sand dunes outside town, deep in the desert.

"We'd have to climb up before six in the morning because the heat would make it impossible soon after the sun rose," he says. English, Australian, Swedish, Slovak and Japanese people were among the first to try sand dune skiing.

. . .

I ask him whether he thinks he will ever go to the dunes again. "Until European embassies stop preventing their citizens from coming up here, I don't think I will get back on these skis," he answers.

"They blame it on al-Qaeda and other jihadi militants groups but it's a shame," he says. "Death will find you wherever you are, people die in Europe too! You should be allowed to do whatever you want to do."

There's more at the link.

I know something of sandboarding, having done it in South West Africa (today Namibia) during the 1970's - I've blogged about it before.  However, we used tea-trays and bits of plywood.  The thought of actually using snow skis, and setting up a ski-shop in the middle of the Sahara Desert - not to mention in the middle of a terrorism conflict zone - is just too incongruous for words!


Quite a player!

I'm obliged to C. W. Swanson for putting up this video of a remarkably talented Polish street musician, Mariusz Goli.

I was so impressed with his talent that I looked for more information about him. Digital Guitar Player had this to say.

Every so often as we look or inspiration we find talented guitar players that we feel are “Up and coming”.  For our February 2014 “Up and coming” guitarist of the month we choose Mariusz Goli.  He is a street artist born in Poznan, Poland and according to his website has been playing guitar since he was 15.

We believe that with greater online exposure Mariusz has the makings of a guitar hero.  There are many brilliant classical guitar players out there.  In fact it is one of the most difficult guitars to play.  It is impressive to see Mariusz Goli do things on a classical guitar that most rock guitar players do on electric guitars.

There's more at the link.

Mr. Goli has a Web site and his own YouTube channel, and there are many clips of his performances on YouTube.  His style reminds me of a solo version of Rodrigo y Gabriela, whom we've met in these pages before (they also have many clips on YouTube if you don't know their music).

Mr. Goli performed at a Famestage concert in London's Hippodrome during March this year.  Here's one of his numbers.

I have to say, that's a remarkable talent. I look forward to hearing more of his music as he grows in popularity.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tired puppy

I've been hard at work on the new book today, writing another 8,000 words and editing several thousand more. At this rate I'll be finished by the weekend, when it'll be time to do a detail edit in preparation for publication. Two rounds of alpha reader feedback have been pretty positive, with some commenters still to respond.  So far, so good!

I'll put up more blog posts in the morning.  Sleep well, y'all.


Russian Army rehearses to take over Ukraine . . .

. . . er . . . sort of.

Would an appropriate Ukrainian response be massed cries of "Nekulturny!"?


Monday, May 26, 2014

A compelling story from aviation history

Not many people today are aware that the Soviet Union copied the US B-29 Superfortress after World War II to produce its first strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-4.  It was based on three B-29's that landed in far eastern Russia after raids on Japan in 1944-45, and were interned there (their crews being returned to the USA).

The story of how the Russians copied the plane is explained in detail in Air & Space magazine.  Here are a couple of excerpts.

Stalin had made three overtures to the United States under the Lend-Lease Act, a U.S. program launched in 1941 to provide materiel to friendly nations, to get B-29s as part of a general initiative to obtain heavy bombers. Washington rejected all requests for the heavies, but was generous with medium bombers, fighters, and transports. The Soviets even attempted a ruse in 1943, adding the B-29 to a long list of aircraft it wanted, but amused Lend-Lease officials denied the request.

. . .

Stalin demanded that his new bomber be an exact copy of the B-29 because he wisely understood that even one concession would lead to a cascade of modifications, and any request to depart from this discipline would slow the process. Eager to maintain formal compliance with Stalin’s order, Tupolev chose not to take the mandate literally despite the presence of the secret police and the possibility of denunciation, reasoning that Stalin’s order pointed more toward ends than means. Thoughout the first year of the Tu-4 program, Tupolev walked a tightrope between Stalin’s requirements and practical concessions.

. . .

The documentation required for the new bomber had been enormous. Retro-engineering dictated the analysis and photographing of some 105,000 parts. Tupolev’s team generated 40,000 detailed drawings, completed by a force of a thousand draftsmen. Exacting quality standards and the threat of police sanctions made the whole enterprise an exhausting experience. During the most critical phases of the program, workers were sometimes allowed only one day off each month. Any deviation raised the fear that someone, for personal benefit or revenge, might complain to the police.

One immense challenge was the difference between English measurements used by U.S. manufacturers and the metric system, which the Soviets used. Early on, Tupolev decided not to convert the U.S. units to the metric system, which would have been time consuming. The manufacture of aluminum panels exemplified the problem. The standard thickness of the aluminum skin on the B-29 was 1/16 of an inch (1.5875 millimeters). It was impossible for Soviet plants to fabricate metal sheets to that dimension. Tupolev opted to vary the thickness of the Tu-4’s skin between .8 and 1.8 millimeters, which actually had the effect of strengthening the aircraft’s structure in some areas. Despite such changes, the weight of the Tu-4 would turn out to be only one percent greater than the B-29. No less critical were other compromises made on electrical wiring as well as hydraulic pressure and fuel consumption.

. . .

The Tu-4 made its public debut on Aviation Day in August 1947, at Moscow’s Tushino airfield. Foreign observers, including the Western powers—particularly their military attaches—were all invited. Three Tu-4s, followed by a Tu-70 passenger version, flew by at 600 feet. At the controls of one of the Tu-4s was Air Marshal Golovanov. When the Western observers counted three bombers, they assumed the Soviets were flying the long-lost interned B-29s. But the appearance of the Tu-70 clearly indicated that the Soviets were flying freshly cloned B-29s. This carefully staged event became a headline story in Western newspapers, though few realized how narrow the margin had been to get these four airplanes airborne. The Tu-70 had been fitted with cannibalized parts from [an interned US B-29 bomber] to make it airworthy.

. . .

Only once in the cold war years of the 1950s did the Soviets threaten to deploy the Tu-4 in combat, although the details are unclear. In the first hours of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, at a time when party secretary Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet military were debating the options to counter a revolt in Hungary, several Tu-4 bombers were ordered to drop conventional bombs on Budapest. Saner minds prevailed, and the flight was called back while en route to the Hungarian capital, leaving Soviet ground forces and tanks to resolve the problem. This aborted flight remains one of the more controversial episodes associated with the history of the Tu-4.

. . .

The Tu-4 project became the pathway for the rapid modernization of the Soviet aviation industry and gave expression to Stalin’s larger purpose: providing for Soviet national security, even military parity with the West. In the Tu-4 program, Stalin demonstrated a certain truth about the Bolsheviks: Personal ruthlessness did not necessarily preclude shrewdness or a disciplined flair for survival. While his instincts were not always perfect, Stalin nevertheless possessed a remarkable strategic sense—including an eye for the right airplanes—that shaped all his policies.

Stalin reorganized Soviet aviation for the post-war environment, compelling it to adopt a range of new technologies, materials, and techniques of manufacture. Technological inferiority persisted, but the baseline for a more sophisticated aviation sector had been established.

There's much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading for aviation buffs and those interested in the early days of the Cold War.

Here's some video footage of the Tu-4.


A worthy first effort

A few weeks ago I wrote about John Lott's efforts to found the Crime Prevention Research Center, in particular to counteract the biased, inaccurate propaganda of anti-gun lobbying groups.

His new organization has just produced its first report, a very useful perspective showing how difficult it is to 'profile' mentally disturbed individuals and use that as a tool to prevent gun violence. You can find it here.  I highly recommend reading it in full, if only to equip yourself to answer the simplistic and biased harangues of those who seek to use tragedy as a means to achieve their political ends.

I'd also like to mention that Mr. Lott's fund-raising efforts have so far brought in only about a tenth of the initial capital he'd like to have to place his new venture on a sound fiscal footing.  I've already contributed, and if you haven't, I hope you'll consider doing so.  I think this is a very worthwhile effort, as evidenced by this first timely report in the face of so recent a tragedy.  You'll find the CPRC's IndieGoGo fund-raising page here.


Periodic Tables of Food

I'm sure we all remember the Periodic Table of Elements from chemistry studies in school.  Courtesy of Epicurious, we learn that there are several other Periodic Tables, these ones related to food. The last two links, for beer types and storing produce, no longer work, so I looked those up and provided new ones.  The tables are:

Fun stuff, particularly for younger cooks who need entertainment.


Memorial Day 2014

Many words have been and will be written about today.  I won't add to them with a new screed, because I think what I said on this anniversary in 2012 is still valid.  Please click over there and read it, if you feel so inclined.

While you're doing that, please say a prayer for the souls of the veterans who died in recent months and years because some Veterans Administration officials cared more about covering their bureaucratic asses than about doing their jobs.  Perhaps, this Memorial Day, we should celebrate by firing everyone concerned - a 'firing party' many veterans would doubtless volunteer to join!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-05-25

Let's start this week's roundup with a mail-in steampunk shooting competition. Click over to Brigid's place for the details.

# # #

Massad Ayoob writes trenchantly about the California mass shooting, and points out the fallacies inherent in so much of the emotional hand-wringing going on.

While on the subject of progressives making anti-gun hay out of this tragedy, Ed Driscoll notes that 'the modern left appear to be soft, sensitive Eloi, but underneath their freshly powdered skin and ubiquitous tortoiseshell Smart Glasses, they’re pure Morlock, ready to devour anyone who deviates even slightly from the day-to-day definition of political correctness'.

# # #

Second City Cop highlights the release of the second part of Chicago Magazine's report on how that city's police department has cynically manipulated crime figures for political purposes.  Both SCC's comments (and those from its readers) and the report itself are unutterably frustrating to anyone who values honesty and integrity in public service.  (Both appear to in very short supply in the Windy City these days.)

# # #

Mike W. at Another Gun Blog writes movingly about living with cerebral palsy and the effect it's had on his life.  If you think your life sucks, chances are someone else has it a lot worse than you do.  Go read Mike's account, and give thanks both for his courage in the face of adversity, and the fact that (most of) you haven't had to struggle like that.

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The Outrider brings us an interesting video report on how .22LR ammunition is made, and asks:  "If each company that manufactures .22lr comes even close to this volume, how in the hell are the shelves bare?"

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Sarah Hoyt does her usual wonderful fisking of the nutjobs who are celebrating because all of the Nebula Awards in science fiction (which are chosen by voters from a self-selected and distinctly moonbattish clique in the first place) were won by women this year.  She points out:  "... what you’re looking at is someone who hates and despises half of humanity because these people — through no fault of their own — were born with outies instead of innies."

As my buddy Lawdog would say, "Gigglesnort!"

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The Silicon Graybeard brings us a very interesting article on the man who devised the way to get astronauts to the moon - but never flew in space.  Truly an unsung hero to many.

While at his blog, he also describes how hackers succeeded in breaking into a supposedly secure network.  It's truly a facepalm moment when you see how they circumvented all the precautions technology could devise, by relying on human weakness instead.

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Old AF Sarge brings us a tale of an odd musical marching instrument, and segues from there into a wonderful story of a parade and fly-past in Germany that went off the charts of awesomeness.

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Captain Tightpants links to an excellent commencement address by Admiral William McRaven in Texas this month.  Very worthwhile reading.

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Rev. Donald Sensing reminds us about Albert J. Nock's comments about the dangers of excessive State power.

Also concerning politics, Og, our favorite Neanderpundit, points out the necessity of choosing the lesser evil in politics, even if you don't particularly like any of the choices available to you.  Pick the best of the bunch, or the one that will do the least harm - but don't opt out of the process, because then you've abandoned your responsibility.  True words, and a valuable perspective.

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Two bloggers point out the very real dangers of higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline.  Old NFO brings us a TV news report about the damage E-85 gas is causing to motor vehicle engines, while Ed Bonderenka tells us about what ethanol gasoline did to his boat engine.  Neither article makes me happy, and both reinforce my determination to avoid E-85 at any cost.

(I wonder if this will have a measurable impact on the motor vehicle market?  Seems to me that if the EPA and other Big Government agencies insist on wider E-85 usage, many people will have little choice but to upgrade to vehicles that can use it without harm to their engines.  Is this a sneaky attempt to boost new auto sales by rendering older cars less useful?  Hmmm . . . )

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Jay G. brings us a feel-good story about a burglar who was caught in the act . . . by the martial arts specialist he was burgling.  Oops!

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Chris Byrne, the Anarchangel, embeds a very interesting (and sobering) video discussion about Vladimir Putin and what he's really up to in Russia.  Given the utter, catastrophic ineptitude of our current Man In The White House, it behooves us to figure out what the hard men of this world will do now that he's essentially abdicated his responsibilities and given them a free hand.  This discussion provides much food for thought.  Recommended.

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Borepatch relates an amusing tale of an early cipher and how it saved a rebel from the gallows.

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The Art Of Manliness brings us '10 Overlooked Truths about Taking Action'.  I'm not sure I agree with all of those listed - I fear that the old saying, "Don't just stand there, do something!" is often contra-indicated because no-one's thought through the consequences of what they're doing! - but it provides a good starting-point to analyze the problem further.

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And for this week's humor segment, C. W. Swanson brings us two very amusing pictures:  one on how to impress your friends (NOT!) and the other on the potential dangers of Mexican food.  Giggle-worthy!

Also, FarmDad tells us why Sam's Club won't let him shop there anymore.

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That's all for this week.  More soon!


Concrete bombs

An anonymous commenter at my previous post mentioned the use of concrete-filled bombs by US aircraft in the Middle East to strike pinpoint targets while causing minimal 'collateral damage'.  I was aware of this;  there have been several articles discussing it since the technique was first revealed in 2009.  Here's a useful one giving more information if you're interested.

I thought I recalled a National Geographic program that mentioned the subject, and a quick search on YouTube revealed that I was right.  Here's a short excerpt from their 'I Didn't Know That' series.  It's a bit oh-gee-whiz and over-the-top, but it's still interesting.

Thanks to our anonymous commenter for bringing the subject to mind.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

A blast from the past - a low-tech cluster bomb

My current novel concerns a war between two minor, insignificant planets in an era of interstellar travel.  Because both are minor polities, they don't have access to and/or can't afford all the most hi-tech weaponry deployed by major powers;  so many elements of their armed forces, tactics and strategy are more reminiscent of earlier eras.  It's a lot of fun trying to blend the two scenarios into a seamless whole.  I hope you'll like it when it's finished.

As part of the process, I describe in great detail a final, climactic engagement between the two sides, including the use of cluster bombs.  I drew on my knowledge of one low-tech (but very effective) cluster bomb design to describe one of the weapons involved;  but an alpha reviewer was taken aback by my outline.  He protested that cluster bombs were far 'higher-tech' than that, and claimed something such as I described would never work.

However, what I describe in my novel is an actual weapon that was designed in the 1970's, further developed in the 1980's, and did significant damage to its targets in both decades.  It began life as the 'Alpha bomb' in what was then Rhodesia.  Its design was inspired by Peter Petter-Bowyer, a career officer in the Rhodesian Air Force who helped produce a great many of that small but ferociously effective air arm's indigenous weapons.  The Alpha bomblet was designed to be dropped from 'hoppers' in the bomb bays of Canberra strike aircraft.  Petter-Bowyer emigrated to South Africa after Rhodesia collapsed, and helped that country's engineers to further develop the Alpha bomblet design. It was incorporated into the CB470 cluster bomb, which packed 40 Alpha bomblets into a conventionally-shaped bomb casing, allowing them to be dropped from pylons beneath the wings and fuselages of aircraft without bomb bays.

Here's Group Captain (i.e. Colonel) Petter-Bowyer's description of how the Alpha bomb was developed in the mid-1970's. It's taken from Chapter 8 of his autobiography 'Winds Of Destruction', which is relatively long, but worthwhile reading for military and aviation history buffs.  (The illustrations below are from various sources, but after the passage of so much time across several continents I've no idea who originated them or who owns the copyright - I've found them in several locations.)

... for accuracy to be assured, the Canberras would have to pass over target in perfect range of missiles and guns. The alternative was to bomb from great height and accept both loss of accuracy and the fact that cloud could limit windows of opportunity for strikes. Neither of these situations was acceptable. Another unacceptable issue, no matter the bombing height, was that large gaps in a string of bombs left too much ground uncovered.

An inherent problem with conventional bomb design is the need for tail cones and stabiliser fins that are costly and occupy potentially useful space in a bomb bay. Spherical bombs are quite different. They do not poses wasteful appendages, nor do they suffer orientation problems. A spherical bomb bursting above ground will consistently deliver shrapnel through 360 degrees in all directions but always lose half into the air.

Delivered in clusters, spherical bomblets moving through air at high speed create high-turbulence wakes that induces lateral movement to following bomblets. Moreover, high drag on every bomblet causes rapid deceleration from the moment of release. Another important advantage is the natural tendency of round bombs striking the ground at shallow angles to skip back into flight, making airburst possible. Admiral Nelson used this principle to good effect against enemy ships by skipping round cannon shell off water to improve the chance of gaining waterline damage.

Having understood these explanations, Denzil and Bev were eager to assist us develop a spherical cluster-bomb system for Canberras because it was agreed that such a system was within the technical competence and capacity of the company. Denzil kindly undertook the initial research work at his company's expense and I opened a project file marked `Project Alpha'. Projects that followed were Projects Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc.

Bev considered it necessary to use a central spherical bomb-core fashioned from 8mm steel plate to house the explosive charge and a multi-directional delay-fuse. This fuse would initiate a pyrotechnic delay-train, without regard to the orientation of a bomblet when it struck ground. The central core was to be encased within a larger 3mm steel sphere with many super-rubber balls tightly packed between the inner and outer casing.

The purpose of super-rubber balls was to allow the inner core to compress them on impact with ground thereby creating a latent energy source that would enhance a round bomblet's natural tendency to bounce into flight. At the time we did not see that the rubber interface would be giving bomblets vitally important secondary characteristics. One was an inherent ability to absorb sharp shock loads on the fuse if a bomblet was inadvertently dropped onto concrete during handling & loading.

A variety of tests were conducted to prove prototype bomblets' ability to recover off ground even when dropped vertically from a helicopter at great height. When we were certain we had a worthwhile project on our hands, I went to the Air Force Commander's office late one afternoon with an 8-inch bomblet in my hands.

Having explained the design, I held the ball at waist height and asked Air Marshal McLaren to watch how the bomb recovered into the air after impacting the ground, whereupon I released the ball onto his office carpet. His reaction to the metallic clang was not what I expected and I do not think he even noticed the bounce. "Get that confounded object out of this office. You have six weeks in which to produce your system for full load strikes by four Canberras." I was astounded by such a quick decision and said, "Sir, there is no money budgeted to meet your instruction!"

Mick McLaren was known for his ability to come to quick decisions. His reply was typical. "You concern yourself with technical matters and I will take care of the money. I am counting on you for success. You have six weeks to do the job, so get cracking!"

. . .

I made a telephone call to Denzil and told him we had `green light' on the Alpha Project and that Ron and I would be around to see him immediately. Denzil and Bev were waiting for us in the Company Boardroom together with the company's accountant and a third engineer. Our excitement was somewhat tempered by the realisation that a project of this nature, if undertaken in the USA, would require many millions of dollars, involve many engineers and would take no less than five years to complete.

With only six weeks to finalise research and development and produce four complete carriage and release systems along with hundreds of bomblets, it was obvious we had to make final but correct decisions right away. Denzil did some preliminary calculations that made it clear that cutting of metal had to start next day. In turn this meant we had to finalise the specific dimensions of both inner and outer casings at this very meeting so that preparation for half-sphere presses could be initiated that night.

Canberra bomb-bay drawings were spread out on the Boardroom table to confirm preliminary designs generated during our earlier work. I had to specify the number of bomblets in a single load so that Denzil and Bev could calculate final bomblet dimensions. For convenience we had already started referring to the bomblets as Alpha Bombs (Project Alpha) and I gave the operational requirement as 400 Alpha bombs to be released from eight independent containers, which we named 'hoppers'.

The engineers quickly sketched profiles of four units comprising two hoppers each to establish the internal volume of each hopper. Having done this, they established that the external diameter of each Alpha bomb would be 155mm. From this the size of the rubber balls and inner bomb core were also determined.

The very next day preparations were in hand to press the metal blanks into half spheres. By Day Three the welding of half-spheres for inner cores and outer casings was already under way. The first hundred outer casings were taken off-line and filled with concrete for initial proving trials.

At New Sarum Warrant Officer John Cubbitt had his Drawing Office staff busy finalising the hoppers design and within two days Station Workshops were fabricating prototypes for preliminary drop trials of the concrete-filled Alpha bomblets. The concrete units approximated very closely to the calculated final weight of explosive ones.

. . .

First drop tests of the Alpha bombs were recorded ... and we were delighted to see how cleanly they dropped away and how rapidly they spread out and trailed back from the aircraft. Because the concrete Alphas suffered little damage on impact, we were able to gather them up for repeat drop trials, including releases at low-level. All low level runs were filmed from the bomb bay, by a chase Vampire and from the ground. The results were very encouraging. Impact with the ground was occurring well behind the aircraft, lateral spread was better than expected and every unit skipped back into flight.

By the seventh week, one week behind schedule, the engineers were totally exhausted from their intense work schedule and many sleepless nights. However, we were ready to demonstrate to the Air Staff a full-scale Alpha strike on a 1,200 by 200-metre target that had been prepared by the Range Warden, `Kutanga Mac'. Hundreds of cardboard and steel targets were set above ground and in trenches throughout the length and breadth of the target.

. . .

There was great anticipation and mounting excitement as Squadron Leader Randy du Rand opened his bomb doors late on his run-in at 400 feet at a speed of 300 kts. None of the Air Staff expected such a spectacle of dust and multiple airburst flashes as 300 bomblets did their thing. That the Alphas were bursting at perfect height well behind the Canberra was obvious to all before the sound of the explosions reached the observation point. This came as a thrilling continuous thundering of overlapping explosions.

The Commander was quite overcome by what he witnessed and showed it by shouting, "Bloody marvellous. Absolutely bloody marvellous!" Everyone present congratulated everyone else before we all set off to walk the full length of the prepared target area.

First inspection made it clear that the Alpha Bomb system was just what we needed. When the visitors left, the project team commenced the detailed study that showed that the effective coverage of 300 Alphas was 1,100 metres in length by 120 metres in width.

. . .

The important thing was that the Alpha system was cleared for operations and the Canberra had been given the anti-personnel punch it deserved.

There's much more in his book.  I highly recommend it.

South Africa further developed the Alpha bomblet and incorporated 40 of them into the CB470 cluster bomb, illustrated below.

This was dropped by Mirage fighters of the South African Air Force against terrorist targets in Angola and (reportedly) Mozambique during the mid-1980's.  It was also sold to Iraq, which deployed it against Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq War.  Iraq reportedly reverse-engineered the Alpha bomblet and produced at least some of its own version.  It claimed to have destroyed its stocks after the first Gulf War, but after the second Gulf War US forces found stocks of Alpha bomblets in Iraq on at least one occasion.  (They didn't initially recognize them for what they were, since the weapon was not widely known outside Southern Africa.)

The Alpha bomblet and CB470 cluster bomb have now been withdrawn from service in South Africa, and as far as I'm aware are not in use anywhere else in the world.

It was a remarkable achievement by Rhodesia in the 1970's to develop so effective a weapon at such low cost.  A typical Western cluster bomb costs tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the number and sophistication of its bomblets.  The Alpha bomblet cost less than $10 apiece to produce at 1970's exchange rates, and a decade later a full CB470 cluster bomb could be manufactured for well below $5,000.  They were not only operationally effective, but highly cost-effective as well.

Also very effective was the South African 'ball-bearing bomb', which was described by Flight International in 1986 as follows.

The 120kg [264-pound] low-drag shrapnel bomb is filled with 27kg of RDX/TNT high explosive surrounded by steel balls cast in epoxy between the outer glassfibre skin and the explosive core.  The carrying envelope of the weapon is up to 600kt/M0.95 at up to 40,000ft.

. . .

Nose impact fuzing is fitted, which can be either instantaneous or with a delay element of between 2-18sec;  a tail fuze is provided as a backup.  Alternatively the weapon can be fitted with a proximity nose fuze set for air burst.

. . .

The number of steel balls per bomb vary as to size, with 42,000 6.7mm [17/64" or 0.263"] balls, 26,000 7.9mm [5/16" or 0.311"] balls, 19,500 8.7mm [11/32" or 0.342"] balls, or 15,000 9.5mm [3/8" or 0.374"] balls.

There's more at the link.

I was given to understand during the 1980's, when I was working on other weapons-related projects in South Africa, that the ball-bearing bomb was developed for a specific mission.  Apparently a large-scale parade of terrorists was being planned in a neighboring nation to welcome a particular VIP.  It included a fly-past of four fighter aircraft.  South Africa learned of the plan several months ahead of schedule.  A proposal was made to intercept the 'enemy' fighters with South African planes and shoot them down, while four more South African strike aircraft would mount a flypast in their place - each carrying eight ball-bearing bombs. With careful formation planning, it was believed that the entire area of the parade ground could be pulverized, blasting every square yard of space with up to half a dozen ball-bearings.  That would in theory have been sufficient to kill or severely injure everyone on parade.

As far as I know the plan was never put into operation, but it inspired a very nasty weapon indeed, one that apparently served in other operations to good effect.  The larger, heavier ball-bearings proved more useful in thick, heavy bush, as they could penetrate it more easily with their greater momentum.  With the smaller ball bearings, a pattern of these bombs accurately dropped by a Mirage strike aircraft could clear an area almost as large as a football field of almost all living things.

(I might add that the Alpha bomblets were the cause of considerable heartburn to the 'brass' in the operational area at one time.  You see, soldiers get bored.  When they get bored, they look for distractions.  One such distraction, at a base that shall remain nameless, was to build a trebuchet out of scrap steel, 'borrowing' the maintenance section's welding equipment for the purpose.  The result was a most impressive machine that could hurl small rocks to a considerable distance.  Over a few beers one night, one of its constructors came up with a bright idea.  If it could hurl stones, why not try to hurl Alpha bomblets?  A co-operative Air Force sergeant was unearthed, who carefully emptied a CB470 unit of its bomblets and handed them over in exchange for a couple of cases of beer.  For several nights thereafter the miscreants would lob one, or two, or three Alpha bomblets at a time into the bush beyond the wire and guard towers, producing alarums and excursions among the guards on duty at the time and the expenditure of considerable vexation by the Powers That Be.  When the truth was discovered . . . let's just say that various and sundry punishments were threatened, including the permanent loss of canteen [PX] privileges for all concerned.  However, since they were on the point of rotating back to South Africa anyway, they didn't lose too much sleep about it!  No word on whether anyone ever found out which Air Force sergeant was involved.)

There's your bit of esoteric weapons history for the weekend.


It's not you, it's your hair!

Here's an Italian commercial for shampoo.

Silly, but funny.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Opening a beer bottle - let me count the ways . . .

Following my earlier video on the subject, an anonymous reader commented that this video followed the theme.  I had to agree - and laugh!  It's a compilation of all sorts of weird and wacky methods to open a beer bottle.  I don't recommend any of them, don't try this at home, I'm not responsible if you do, and all that sort of thing, OK?


Last day for the Altered Perceptions fundraiser

Friend and fellow blogger and novelist Larry Correia has joined with several other authors to organize a fundraiser for Rob Wells, who's facing crippling medical bills.  They've all contributed material to bring out a book that will be given to donors.

Tomorrow, May 24th, is the last day of the fundraiser.  Miss D. and I have already contributed, as have a large number of people.  At the time of writing no less than $95,892 has been raised - more than 87% of the target of $110,000.  I'd be very grateful if you, dear readers, would read about Rob's situation and consider contributing as well.  I'm sure we can reach the target if we all pull together - and if we don't pull together to help each other as much as possible, all of us will end up poorer as a result, in spirit if not in pocket.

You can click over to the project's IndieGoGo page to make your contribution.  Thanks again.


Interesting ammunition

I'm sure many readers who are into the shooting sports and/or defensive firearm use have heard of Hornady's relatively new Critical Duty round using the company's FlexLock bullet.  (Click the image below for a larger view.)

It's marketed as being 'For Law Enforcement Only', but it's freely available to non-LE shooters as well, in both standard and overpressure (+P) loads. (Hornady's Critical Defense range of ammunition is loaded to lower pressures using the FTX bullet, but I don't see much point in using it when the more potent law enforcement version is so freely available - why settle for lower performance when you don't have to?  For those interested, Hornady provides more information on the difference between the two rounds.)

I've been hearing more and more feedback from shooters claiming that the Critical Duty range is pretty good stuff.  Performance against animals has reportedly been effective in most service calibers and cartridges, and it appears to feed well in most pistols in which it's been tried.  It's lower in energy than some competitors:  for example, my current carry load in 9mm. is Winchester's Ranger T-series 127gr. +P+ JHP with claimed muzzle energy of 441 ft/lbs, almost 20% more than the Hornady Critical Duty 135gr. +P JHP's figure of 369 ft/lbs.  However, the latter should have sufficient to get the job done - and unlike the Winchester offering, it carries no ominous warnings about excessive pressures or forbidding its use in carbines.  It'll probably beat up guns (and shooters!) less than the Ranger round, while its penetration and barrier performance appear to be at least as good as the latter.  Energy isn't everything.

Handgun ammunition is pretty much of a muchness across most major manufacturers these days, with the best offerings from producers like Federal, Hornady, Remington, Speer and Winchester all performing at similar levels.  However, judging from comments by shooters and instructors whose opinions I respect, two newer-technology rounds are beginning to stand out as top performers among the current crop.  One is the TAC-XPD and XPB bullets from Barnes, loaded in their own cartridges and by Cor-Bon, Buffalo Bore and other smaller manufacturers in premium ammunition (I use Barnes' 140gr. load as my .357 Magnum carry ammo).  The other is the new Hornady Critical Duty round, which I'm currently testing.  So far, so good.

I'm not being paid to mention this stuff, nor do I get any kickback if you buy it:  but I thought my readers would like to know about it.  Handgun rounds are almost uniformly anemic in comparison to most rifle rounds, so any advance in technology that makes them even a little more effective is to be welcomed.


Redneck beer opener?

I can so see some people I know doing this . . .


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Star Wars - with subtitles

A friend sent me the link to this absolutely hilarious collection of subtitles for the film 'Star Wars Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith'.  They were produced for the Chinese-language DVD (possibly a pirated version), but the person who translated the Chinese words into English had a rather unique perspective on the latter language (to put it mildly!).  Here are a few examples in the form of screenshots.

There are many more at the link.  Some of them made me laugh out loud.


A new personal best

Today I produced over 8,000 words for my latest book - about two thousand more than my previous personal daily 'best'.  It's flowing really well (70,000 words so far), and I'm very pleased with progress.  (Of course, whether it's good enough to be pleased about is a judgment that will be rendered by my readers!)  At this rate I'll be finished the book by the end of May.  Editing has already commenced. I've had half a dozen alpha and beta readers looking at it, identifying areas needing improvement and helping me to get a better overall view of it.  As a result of their comments I've already ripped out about 20,000 words from the first half and added another 30,000, incorporating more action and changing several of the characters and sub-plots.

It's amazing to realize how my writing skills have developed over time.  If I'd tried working this fast with my first book, it would have been a disaster.  When an alpha or beta reader would offer a criticism of it, my first reactions were often frustration and despair - "I've already put so much effort into this!  How can I change it?  I don't even know what to fix!"  Now the reaction is more, "Oh, yes - I see what they mean - no problem - I can handle this."  There's a confidence that comes with experience, and I'm very pleased to be developing it.

I've already talked with Oleg Volk about the cover, and we've identified a suitable image (although I still have to improve on my working title). Miss D. and I will work on the blurb to have it ready by early June, when we'll see Oleg again to finalize the cover. Who knows?  The book might be released in time for LibertyCon, if all goes well.


Politics, defined visually

Courtesy of CenTexTim, from whom I shamelessly stole borrowed this image:

Yep.  That just about says it all.  However, with Disney - Disney!!! - making a seventh Star Wars movie, it might get even worse . . .