I learned something this weekend about the high cost of the subtle delusion that creative technical problem-solving is the preserve of a priesthood of experts, using powers and perceptions beyond the ken of ordinary human beings.
Terry Pratchett is the author of the Discworld series of satirical fantasies. He is — and I don’t say this lightly, or without having given the matter thought and study — quite probably the most consistently excellent writer of intelligent humor in the last century in English. One has to go back as far as P.G. Wodehouse or Mark Twain to find an obvious equal in consistent quality, volume, and sly wisdom.
I’ve been a fan of Terry’s since before his first Discworld novel; I’m one of the few people who remembers Strata, his 1981 first experiment with the disc-world concept. The man has been something like a long-term acquaintance of mine for ten years — one of those people you’d like to call a friend, and who you think would like to call you a friend, if the two of you ever arranged enough concentrated hang time to get that close. But we’re both damn busy people, and live five thousand miles apart.
This weekend, Terry and I were both guests of honor at a hybrid SF convention and Linux conference called Penguicon held in Warren, Michigan. We finally got our hang time. Among other things, I taught Terry how to shoot pistols. He loves shooter games, but as a British resident his opportunities to play with real firearms are strictly limited. (I can report that Terry handled my .45 semi with remarkable competence and steadiness for a first-timer. I can also report that this surprised me not at all.)
During Terry’s Guest-of-Honor speech, he revealed his past as (he thought) a failed hacker. It turns out that back in the 1970s Terry used to wire up elaborate computerized gadgets from Timex Sinclair computers. One of his projects used a primitive memory chip that had light-sensitive gates to build a sort of perceptron that could actually see the difference between a circle and a cross. His magnum opus was a weather station that would log readings of temperature and barometric pressure overnight and deliver weather reports through a voice synthesizer.
But the most astonishing part of the speech was the followup in which Terry told us that despite his keen interest and elaborate homebrewing, he didn’t become a programmer or a hardware tech because he thought techies had to know mathematics, which he thought he had no talent for. He then revealed that he thought of his projects as a sort of bad imitation of programming, because his hardware and software designs were total lash-ups and he never really knew what he was doing.
I couldn’t stand it. “And you think it was any different for us?” I called out. The audience laughed and Terry passed off the remark with a quip. But I was just boggled. Because I know that almost all really bright techies start out that way, as compulsive tinkerers who blundered around learning by experience before they acquired systematic knowledge. “Oh ye gods and little fishes”, I thought to myself, “Terry is a hacker!”
Yes, I thought ‘is’ — even if Terry hasn’t actually tinkered any computer software or hardware in a quarter-century. Being a hacker is expressed through skills and projects, but it’s really a kind of attitude or mental stance that, once acquired, is never really lost. It’s a kind of intense, omnivorous playfulness that tends to color everything a person does.
So it burst upon me that Terry Pratchett has the hacker nature. Which, actually, explains something that has mildly puzzled me for years. Terry has a huge following in the hacker community — knowing his books is something close to basic cultural literacy for Internet geeks. One is actually hard-put to think of any other writer for whom this is as true. The question this has always raised for me is: why Terry, rather than some hard-SF writer whose work explicitly celebrates the technologies we play with?
Eric S. Raymond, “The Delusion of Expertise”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-05-05.
August 22, 2016
April 4, 2016
February 8, 2016
Published on 8 Dec 2015
Othais and Mae delve into the story of this WWI classic. Complete with history, function, and live fire demonstration.
C&Rsenal presents its WWI Primer series; covering the firearms of this historic conflict one at a time in honor of the centennial anniversary. Join us every other Tuesday!
Ross Rifle MkIII
Capacity: 5 rnds
weight: 9.9 lbs
This disastrous straight pull rifle remains an infamous part of WWI. It brought down politicians, cost soldiers’ lives, and was generally a complete failure on the battlefield. But was the Ross Rifle really unfixable? Or did the Canadians drop the gun just when they had it finally working?
The Ross Rifle Story
Roger F. Phillips
January 14, 2016
Cabot Guns is planning to forge a matching pair of 1911 pistols from a fragment of a meteorite:
It may have plummeted to Earth over prehistoric Namibia, but the Gibeon meteorite has had quite a bit of interaction with modern humans. In the years since it was found in 1836, fragments of the giant space rock have been formed into just about everything: from jewelry, to knives, to works of art. Now, a luxury firearms company in Pennsylvania plans to build a mirror-image pair of pistols from a 35-kilogram (77-lb) piece.
Tentatively called the “Big Bang Pistol Set,” the builds will be a first for Cabot Guns, a company that specializes in 1911-style firearms. “We wanted to raise the bar again,” says founder and President Rob Bianchin. “The pistol set will be a modern work of functional art.” Cabot rolled out pistol grips constructed from meteorite several years ago (pictured below), but the new set will be formed completely from the interstellar metal – something that has (according to the team) never been done before.
We estimate that the original, uncut fragment, which Cabot acquired from a private meteorite collector, would fetch around $110,294 at auction. Once completed, the company hopes to get anywhere from $500,000-$1,000,000 for the pair of pistols. “Meteorite is hardly an optimum material for firearms, so numerous technical matters have been overcome to construct the pistols using advanced aerospace techniques to make the pistols fully functional,” explains Bianchin. “The construction of each component has been a science experiment but we are confident they will be fully completed.”
H/T to ESR for the link.
December 30, 2015
Published on 28 Dec 2015
In the second part of our German weapons special, Othais introduces us to pistols. Among them are oddities like the Reichsrevolver but also iconic pieces of German engineering like the Luger including the rare Trommelmagazin.
November 4, 2015
Five years back, there were interesting reports about a prototype weapon that seemed to have an inside edge for getting into the hands of front-line troops in Afghanistan for specific bunker-busting and similar missions. Then it went silent. Recently, Strategy Page says it may be back in the running:
Two years after having its budget sharply cut in 2013 the U.S. Army XM25 grenade launcher is back on track and is now expected to enter service by 2017. It’s been a long road from concept to acceptance and mass production. The army began working on this type of weapon back in the 1990s as the OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) and that mutated into the XM25 (the “X” in XM25 designates a system that is still in development). Since then the similar South Korean K11 and Chinese ZH05 have appeared. The XM25 is the only one of three to have been tested extensively in combat but because of a misfire during a demonstration, budget cuts and some troops finding there were not really that many situations calling for the XM25, the system was thought to be cancelled (development funding was eliminated) in 2013. But the army managed to keep the project on life support. That was mainly because a lot of troops who got to use it in combat liked it a lot and even gave it a nickname; “punisher.”
The initial spectacular success and popularity of the XM25 grenade launchers in Afghanistan led the army to request that the weapon enter regular service as the M25 in 2014. But Congress, looking for ways to reduce military spending in 2013 cut all money for the M25. The army never gave up and managed to scrounge enough cash to build 1,100 of them. Currently the XM25 cost $35,000 each with the 25mm ammo going for $55 per round. Initially SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had some XM25s and some enthusiastic users but in 2013, with few American troops in combat there is not a lot of demand for a weapon like this. The resumption of counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan changed that led to more support for reviving the project.
When the first evaluation models of the XM25 arrived in Afghanistan in 2011 the weapon soon became much sought after by infantry troops. There were never more than a few dozen XM25s in Afghanistan and limited supplies of ammunition. Despite that the weapon quickly developed a formidable reputation. The Special Forces had priority on the weapon because it is very useful for special operations missions. The army planned to buy enough so that they could issue one per infantry squad. There are 27 squads in an infantry battalion.
October 19, 2015
In case the title isn’t clear enough, there’s a protest started recently at the University of Texas in Austin where students upset at a recent court ruling allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus came up with what they thought was a perfect counterpoint: they’d open carry dildos instead. Sarah Hoyt comments:
… I have no idea what Ms. Jin majored in, but I can sort of follow the tracks of her thought. Logically, carrying sex toys to campus to protest guns makes absolutely NO sense. I could see carrying signs, or … I don’t know, police whistles, if you’re convinced you’re completely safe if you can just call the police. I can even see, in a more sane way, wearing a protective vest and claiming this is better than guns for defense. I mean, at least they are in the same general kind of thing and sort of kind of address the problem in different ways.
BUT no. Because this is not reasoning. This is magical thinking. WORSE. This is magical thinking based on a world that doesn’t exist, a world that was sold to Ms. Jin (literally. College is expensive) by academics so divorced from reality that they can’t find it with two hands, a cane and a seeing eye dog.
In this world, you see, conservatives love guns and hate sex. This is all “explained” with pseudo Freudian patter about how guns are a substitute for the penis. This is total nonsense and old nonsense at that, stuff we LAUGHED at for being pseudo profound way back in the seventies.
But they absolutely believe that we defend the second amendment not because we want to be responsible for our own self-defense, not because we believe power derives from the individual and that therefore an individual must be capable of reining in the government when it gets out of control. No. They think we want guns because that’s the way we express our sexual repression. (Actually now I think about it, my gun obsessed friends are also the most sex-positive, so their idea not only is wrong, it’s bizarrely wrong.)
Since Ms. Jin has never considered that these stories she was sold are in fact stories with no relation to reality, her reasoning went something like “They’re carrying guns and that upsets me. I must carry something that upsets them. Ahah! Dildos.”
In an even mildly sane world, the press would have made her a laughing stock, because that reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.
But the press buys into the same imaginary world in which somehow the belief in guns for defense is a Freudian thing and so the “gun” value can be countered with the “dildo” value.
This is not grown up thinking. It’s magical thinking, in which complex issues get reduced to amulets and symbols, countered by other amulets and symbols.
Again, this is sort of the human default. And believing absurd things about those you believe to be the enemy is also completely normal. The left calls it “othering” and is completely oblivious to the fact that they do it. A lot.
But it’s still human-normal.
July 23, 2015
L. Neil Smith grew up on and around US Air Force bases, and explains at least some of the reason for the government requiring military installations to be gun-free:
One reason, of course, for military gun-free killing zones is the dire need the military experienced during the 1960s for conscriptees — for which read military slaves. Almost any scum were gratefully-accepted. Judges regularly sentenced car thieves and other such criminals with “go to jail or join the Army”. Would you really like to issue guns to society’s dregs like that? My dad, who ran Vehicle Maintenance Departments in Newfoundland and in Florida, was always having to get his younger men out of jail on various charges. Sometimes, in Florida, it was simply because the Sheriff’s deputies were moronic redneck thugs and many of Dad’s men were black. The uniform made them “uppity.” Sometimes it resembled the Jerry Springer show, one of his Airmen got his wife and mother-in-law pregnant simultaneously. And they say incest is a game the whole family can enjoy.
As a teenager, I was taught to throw a knife and an axe to good effect by a youngish Lieutenant Colonel in the First Air Commando Group who’d remarkably earned his Master’s degree in Anthropology by making and learning to use primitive weapons. He spent his spare time in Vietnam teaching airplane mechanics on the maintenance line to throw a two-foot screwdriver like a knife whenever the Viet Cong came marauding around. But when your enemy is armed with an AK-47 and half a dozen hand grenades, a screwdriver must seem like a pretty frail reed. If possible, it’s even worse than bringing a knife to a gun fight.
So, am I saying that Air Police and Military Police (and Shore Patrols) should be fully armed at all times? Not at all. I’m saying that all military personnel should be armed at all times. A soldier is a guy (or a gal) with a gun. You can’t have it two ways. An unarmed soldier is a joke — and potentially a corpse. Officers should wear their sidearms publicly and proudly; a democratic republic should issue equally-effective sidearms to all of its enlisted personnel as well.
Pentagon officials and other military bigwigs who oppose this principle, which would put an immediate stop to base-shootings like the one in Chattanooga that happened today are criminally negligent. A very big part of the problem is corruption or stupidity in high places. Shamefully, the U.S.government treats its soldiers very badly and without respect. The lower ranks are forced to go on welfare to feed their families, and seek food stamps. The sleazy, sloppy treatment they receive in Veterans’ Administration hospitals closely resembles being sentenced to a Third World prison. Incompetent, uncaring doctors don’t listen and have to be argued into doing what is required of them.
Years ago, I prescribed, in an article for Reason/Frontlines that the raw numbers of American military personnel be reduced, that it should become very difficult to join the military, and that military personnel receive a tenfold raise in wages. Now I say, arm them, as well, and allow them to defend themselves as they defend our country.
The alternative is more death.
April 8, 2015
- Gun control. Liberals are completely wrong about this. A fair number of them know better, too, but they sponsor lies about it as a form of class warfare against conservative-leaning gun owners.
- Nuclear power. They’re wrong about this, too, and the cost in both dollars and human deaths by pollution and other fossil-fuel side-effects has been enormous.
- Affirmative action. These programs couldn’t be a more diabolical or effective plan for plan for entrenching racial prejudice if the Aryan Nations had designed them.
- Abortion: The liberals’ looney-toon feminist need to believe that a fetus one second before birth is a parasitic lump of tissue with no rights, but a fetus one second afterwards is a full human, has done half the job of making a reasoned debate on abortion nigh-impossible.
- Communism. I haven’t forgiven the Left for sucking up to the monstrous evil that was the Soviet Union. And I never will.
- Socialism. Liberals have never met a tax, a government intervention, or a forcible redistribution of wealth they didn’t like. Their economic program is Communism without the guts to admit it.
- Junk science. No medical study is too bogus and no environmental scare too fraudalent for liberals. If it rationalizes bashing capitalism or slathering on another layer of regulatory bureaucracy, they’ll take it.
- Defining deviancy down. Liberals are in such a desperate rush to embrace the `victimized by society’ and speak the language of compassion that they’ve forgotten how to condemn harmful, self-destructive and other-destructive behavior.
- William Jefferson Clinton. Sociopathic liar, perjurer, sexual predator. There was nothing but a sucking narcissistic vacuum where his principles should have been. Liberals worship him.
- Liberals, by and large, are fools.
Eric S. Raymond, “Top Ten Reasons I’m Neither a Liberal Nor a Conservative”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-09-19.
March 17, 2015
I think I first heard of this rather imposing handgun in L. Neil Smith’s SF novel The Probability Broach (another character in his novels champions the Dardick 1500, also a weird and wonderful handgun). Last week, Robert Farago had a post about a fantastic collection of Luger pistols that also included an example of the MARS:
This rare and monstrous handgun once had bragging rights as “the most powerful handgun in the world.” Considering it was only produced from 1898-1907 and would not lose that title until the 1970s, that’s quite an accomplishment. That small production time, of course, resulted in a very limited run of these guns. Approximately 80 were ever produced in all their proprietary configurations (8.5mm, .36 (9mm), .45 Long, and .45 Short). The example shown above is an extremely early version (c. 1898-1900) and stamped with the serial number 4. It also has the fine blued finish and wonderful checkered walnut grips. It remains in its all-original and unaltered condition.
The pistols were very well-made with all hand-fitted parts, and extremely powerful, but ultimately they were not to be. Why? A few reasons existed and they all had to deal with the gun’s rather complex design. First of all, complex designs historically tend to not render themselves well to life in military service. Complex devices have more parts to foul and are difficult to repair/clean in the field.
Second, this complex device, utilizing a long-action recoil, had such horrendous recoil that it was prone to feeding problems. The recoil was partially due to the powerful cartridges, but also because of the long travel of the moving parts. It also suffered from a heavy trigger pull. All these gripes led to the MARS being passed over for military contracts, the sole hope of its designer, Hugh Gabbet-Fairfax. There were never any issues with its “man-stopping” ability, but its recoil was its ultimate undoing. Fortunately, it left us with some rather entertaining quotes such as, “No one who fired once with the pistol wished to shoot it again,” and “singularly unpleasant and alarming.” Even without military contracts or commercial sales, this rare curio remains a supremely desirable collectible.
March 3, 2015
At Ace of Spades H.Q., WeirdDave explains why it’s easy to talk about resisting illegal actions by the government, but few would really be willing to bear the cost:
In 480BC, Xerxes of Persia demanded that the Greeks under King Leonidas of Sparta surrender their weapons. King Leonidas responded with a laconic Molon labe, which translates as “Come and take them” and a legend was born. Even though the Greeks lost the Battle of Thermopylae that followed, King Leonidas’ stirring phrase has echoed with defiance down through history. The phrase has a rich history in America, too. From Fort Morris, Georgia, to Gonzales, Texas to Second Amendment defenders today, “Come and Take It” resonates in American hearts.
With the disturbing news this week about BATF’s attempt to ban M855 NATO Ball ammunition, the internet has been alive with people swearing fealty to the idea of molon labe. I approve. However, talk is cheap they say, and internet talk is cheaper than most. Anyone who considers themselves a patriot needs to take a good long moment of quiet reflection and ask themselves, honestly, what does molon labe mean? More specifically, they need to ask themselves what are the ramifications of defiantly proclaiming “Come and take them” if the authorities say “OK”.
The ramifications are simple: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
This isn’t universally true, of course, but in order for molon labe to mean anything, in order for it to be effective, you have to accept that it IS true. If we ever get to the point where the authorities are attempting to forcibly disarm the population at large, the only way to prevent it from happening is to meet force with force. If it comes to this, you will lose. Every time. Even if you are armed, ready, and respond instantly to aggression by the authorities, there are a whole lot more of them than there are of you. You might kill one, or even several, but they will keep coming and they will bring resources to bear that you can not hope to match. Officers. SWAT teams. Snipers. Air cover. Drones. They WILL take you down, and that’s not all. No, you have to accept something else too:
YOUR FAMILY IS GOING TO DIE TOO.
Think I’m talking crazy talk? Ask Vicki Weaver. Ask Sammy Weaver. I’ll wait.
February 21, 2015
Robert Farago learned a lot from watching TV and movies. Luckily, it didn’t kill him:
My main squeeze had never watched High Noon. Thanks to Netflix, I rectified that omission. I hadn’t seen Gary Cooper’s darting eyes in a good forty years. Watching the Marshal fail to marshal the townspeople to defend themselves against a quartet of outlaws, it all came flooding back. How a good man sometimes has to stand alone. How fine Grace Kelly looked in a skin-tight bodice (not an observation I shared with my SO). How a single shot can make a man fall down dead in an instant. Wait. What? Yup. Here are three really stupid lessons I learned from watching cowboy movies as a kid …
1. Handguns kill instantly
What I learned …
Thanks to Saturday matinée westerns on UHF TV, I grew-up believing bad guys died when you shot them. They did so without hesitation, deviation or repetition. One bullet was more than enough to shuffle a bad guy off this mortal coil. I also learned that the good guy never dies from a gunshot wound, although he sometimes seems to. And if a bad guy’s bullet does take out a good guy — usually a supporting player — he’s got more than enough time to say something heroic and stoic first.
Truth be told …
With modern medical care and internal combustion-powered hospital transportation, most people who get shot live. No matter what caliber ammo you use, it’s really hard to stop someone in their tracks with a handgun round. Even if you hit the bad guy center mass, perforating his heart or severing a major artery, they’ve got at least 30 seconds to drag your ass into the afterlife with them.
January 29, 2015
Last week, Tam saluted John Moses Browning on the occasion of his birthday, and celebrated the problem he solved:
So, the problem with a self-loading pistol is keeping the action closed until the bullet has left the muzzle and pressure in the chamber has dropped low enough that the brass case will be ejected neatly, as opposed to being transformed into a spray of shrapnel in the shooter’s face.
Early autopistols relied on complex mechanical setups, like the well-known Borchardt/Luger mechanism derived from Maxim’s toggle joint, to provide mechanical disadvantage against which the recoil had to work.
It would not shock me to learn that the two main parts of that toggle required more separate machining steps than an entire modern pistol slide. Further, the entire works were exposed to the great outdoors. Friend Marko once jokingly called it “The perfect handgun for a gunfight in a computer clean room.”
So, what are our choices to hold the breech closed for that crucial fraction of a second? Well, there’s spring pressure, but you can only add so much of that before the action can’t be worked by human hands. You can also add weight to the breechblock.
December 28, 2014
Larry Correia talks about how to write about firearms:
No matter what your views on guns are, you’re likely to eventually come across the subject in your writing, so I thought it would be prudent to bring on a guest to discuss how best to go about it.
I’m sure you’ve all seen wild west movies where someone gets shot and then flies backwards several feet. Or in modern movies someone shoots the bottom of a car, then it explodes easily on the first shot. With the dramatics that Hollywood adds to gun use, it’s not surprising that it eventually affects how authors write about them.
Ryan: What are the common pitfalls in fiction where it’s clear that the author has never held or fired a modern firearm?
Larry: It isn’t just guns, but any topic where the reader is an expert and the author is clueless. The problem is that when you write something that the reader knows is terribly wrong, it kicks them right out of the story and ruins the experience for them. Guns are especially hard because they are super common in fiction, and there are tons of readers who know about them.
Most of these really glaring errors can be taken care of with a little bit of cursory research. Technical things can be taken care of by a few minutes on the manufacturer’s webpage, which will keep your characters from dramatically flipping off the safety on a gun that doesn’t have one.
Beyond that, however, is the actual use of the gun. The character using it should have a realistic amount of knowledge based on their skill, knowledge, ability, and training. If you are gong to be writing about a character who is a professional gunslinger, then you need to do some research to make sure that person does what a professional gunslinger would do.
Ryan: If an author does not have access to a firearm or gun range, what are the best methods to brush up on them?
Larry: Actually shooting is best, but if you can’t, find friends who know guns and pick their brains. The problem here is like I mentioned, realistic amounts of knowledge for a particular character and your friends are going to vary just as much in real life. Just because somebody on the internet told you something doesn’t make it true.
Most online firearms forums are pretty cool about authors coming on and asking questions. Just don’t be a jerk about it.
Be careful because there are a lot of urban legends out there about guns. 5.56 doesn’t tumble through the air. A near miss of a .50 BMG won’t tear your limbs off. That is nonsense. So, the best thing to do is ask a group of people, and in short order you should be able to tell who actually has a clue and then disregard the crazy.
December 21, 2014
H/T to KA-CHING! for the image.