Friday, December 21, 2007

We Heart NY

Wow, it's been a long time since I've put anything up here. It's odd, with our new partner I have more time off, but the time off I have is so completely spoken-for in terms of pent-up travel plans that I find less and less time to blog during the workday.

Well, that and Call of Duty 4 for the Xbox 360. Pure videogame heroin, at least for me.

In any event, the Wife and I did take a trip to New York City the first weekend of October. We were looking for a reason to go and lo and behold, a superb reason presented itself in the form of Amy Blankenship (whom we did not previously know) answering the prayers of Scott Sewell (whom we do know, though this is an old resume) and agreeing to become his wife on October 6, 2007. Our trip to NYC to attend the ceremony was fortuitous shrapnel from that particular prayer hitting the target.

Tex(ans) And The City
On Wednesday October 3rd we loaded up the car and headed out to Gregg County Airport for the puddle-jumper to DFW, then flew into LaGuardia.

I'll be honest, I'd been to NYC three times, the last in 1990, and the NYC I remembered was noisy and vaguely dangerous. I'd been wanting to go since September 11, as that particular day will probably be the most important non-family day of my life. Let's be serious, anything more frame-of-reference disrupting than that may not be survivable. That, and New York does not have a reputation as the friendliest or nicest place to visit, "rude" is the common description.

This trip definitely dispelled every negative connotation NYC may have held for me in the past. The trip from the airport (LaGuardia is old, but decent and easy to navigate), the hotel staff at the Marriott Marquis, all the people we dealt with were universally pleasant and helpful. The only minor quibble was with the staff at a Europa Cafe at the south end of Times Square, but it was our fault for not understanding the system there. Order your food, then pay. You don't order at the cash register. It's like Jason's Deli for you Texans, only it's not laid out so that you have to order before you get to the cash register. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip around NYC.

The absolute best thing we did was to see Scott and meet Amy literally straight from the plane at Scott's apartment in Lower Manhattan. He's had a peripatetic career, from Kenya to Alaska to New York City, and is now on an extended deployment helping a company operating very exclusive health clubs implement a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system. Many Seinfeld memories floated up as we pulled up in a taxi in front of an apartment building and went to Scott's apartment, where we were met by Amy and headed off to dinner at Tribeca Grill.

Tribeca Grill was the site of one of Scott & Amy's first dates, and their experience was so good there that Scott wrote a letter to the manager. Apparently Scott can write a pretty complimentary letter, because they recognized his name, the manager came out after we were seated and thanked Scott personally and the service and food were excellent. The chef even sent out extra things for us to try -- an entree here, an extra dessert there. As good as the food was, it was better to be spending a pleasant evening outdoors in an unusually temperate New York City with people you like and admire, like Scott & Amy.

From the Tribeca we walked a few blocks down to the World Financial Center and Ground Zero. WTC 7 has already been rebuilt, and there's a lot of construction going on at the tower site. You can't really see much, the site has been cleared for years and the "bathtub" that WTC 1 and 2 were in is well below ground level. From there we walked to Wall Street, saw the outside of the trading floor and the sculpture of the Bull. Apparently there is a part of the Bull's anatomy that you're supposed to get your picture taken holding, we passed on that opportunity. That part is highly polished, though, so we appear to have been the exceptions.

We walked down to Battery Park and looked across the water to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, then took a subway back to the station closest to Scott's apartment. Marci saw one rat in Battery Park that she swears was the size of a small dog, but I missed it. I may have thought it was a small dog. The subway was interesting. It was so humid underground that the effects on Marci's hair were immediate, and not to be photographed.

When we finally made it back to the Marriott Marquis a little after midnight, we realized why blackout curtains in hotels are sometimes not an option. Our room fronted on Times Square at about the 30th floor, and it was daylight-bright from all the video billboards and lighted signs. Times Square really has to be seen in person, we've all "been there" in movies and TV but seeing it close up it's a monument the Egyptians would be proud of.

Lullaby of Broadway

We did a lot in our three days. With a homebase in Midtown, we saw Curtains Thursday night (excellent, excellent, excellent) and Spamalot on Friday. Curtains was the original cast, and we had third-row aisle seats, probably the best seats I've had to anything but one ACU Homecoming Musical. Spamalot has lost its entire original cast (the original Lady of the Lake is now Callie on Grey's Anatomy), and having heard the Original Cast Recording (as my iPod cryptically refers to it) numerous times, the singing was better by the original cast. Still great to see live-action Monty Python sketches, it was very entertaining but maybe a notch behind Curtains, if for no other reason than that I had very high expectations that probably could not be met.

We also saw Legally Blonde, on Saturday, in a fit of desperation. I'm sure Laura Bell Bundy, the pride of Lexington, Kentucky is a phenominally talented person, everyone in the show could sing and dance like nobody's business, but the show itself was a dreadful bore. I literally could not believe all the songs written about nothing, that seemed to go on forever. With intermission it was, IIRC, over three hours, which was about 150 minutes too long. I'm not sure what I should have expected in terms of a musical made from a marginal movie. The source material doesn't compare, at least alongside Les Miserables and the genius of Monty Python.

If you're in New York, skip Legally Blonde. Please. I wish I had.

I join my fictional French forbearers in taunting Legally Blonde.

A Day At The Museum(s)

We managed to pack in the Guggenheim and the American Museum of Natural History. We had to go to the Guggenheim because I'm a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan and our architect friend John Breidenbach explained how the museum is designed to work: you take the elevator to the top, and then walk down to the ground in a gently descending spiral.

Like most Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in non-desert environments the Guggenheim is getting oft-needed repair, they're gorgeous buildings that look great on paper, only to encounter functional issues in real life. I think he jumped the shark at the Prairie School, but that's just me. I'm an Arts & Crafts fan.

The AMNH was far, far to large to see in the short time we had available. There is more antiquity in that one place than I have seen in all the other museums I've been to, and it makes me wish I had a better background in art appreciation. The arms and armor section was interesting, most of the impressive collection of Samurai armor there would be snug on our son, who is nine years old. Even the European armor, sllegedly for the better-fed nobility, was tiny. Something tells me that a Middle Ages war would look like Battle of the Hobbits.

Me taunting the armor of my actual French forbearers.

Hudson Hawk
We took a "half-circle" boat ride around New York Harbor. I would have been happy to go to the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, but the USS Intrepid has been moved to New Jersey for delousing, or whatever they do to ships who don't move very often. The little ferry we rode went from the west side of the island to the east side as far as the UN, then turned around and went back. Our narrator was very helpful, and from the many descriptions of the now non-existant WTC towers in Lower Manhattan, still plenty bitter about 9/11. We didn't actually go to the Statue of Liberty, but we did a drive-by.

A beautiful symbol of freedom and the splendor that is our country, and a statue of some French chick behind her.

Breakfast Near Tiffany's
There is plenty of shopping in New York, and we managed to do quite a bit. The Wife saved the trip to Canal Street for purses until her girls' trip to NYC in November, because she's wonderful. We went to FAO Schwartz, where the first floor was given over to the stuffed animal version of the Museum of Natural History. All in all, it's an impressive place but the press of people was enough to validate online shopping all by itself. We also went to the Apple Store, which is underground. The only part aboveground is a giant acrylic or glass cube, to get to the actual store there is a staircase or a glass elevator. The Wife took the elevator.

Beam me down, Steve

While we were in the Apple Store, we bought The Wife her iPhone, which she has learned to use quite admirably, and a couple of those hard-to-find Belkin headphone adapters. I got the early-adopter $100 Apple Store Credit (see previous blog), which softened the bite a little. The only strange thing about her (Big) Apple iPhone is that the ringtone says in a Brooklyn accent, "How YOU doin'?"

We also saw Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, New York's Only and Unofficial Wizard at the Apple Store, updating his blog. If any of you are fans of "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, you will remember this guy from the Star Wars Premiere sketch. Hey, if you can make a living in as expensive a city as NYC being weird professionally, more power to you. The giveaway was the glasses, as well as the 'Blackwolf the Dragonmaster' website open in front of him.

He's a wizard, not a conjurer of cheap JavaScript tricks.

As far as the shopping went, most of that occurred (in fiscal damage terms) after the wedding when we walked over to SoHo and The Wife found first Oilily and then a succession of more expensive stores as we walked down the street. She was actually pretty moderate. I got a couple of pairs of shoes, I needed them for the rehearsal dinner.

The SoHo shopping was also interesting because The Wife and I were completely overdressed for the occasion, the wife in a beautiful dress and heels, and I in my blue suit and white shirt with tie. Considering the temperature was well into the 80s, we were pretty warm, and surrounded by a sea of T-shirt clad hipsters.

What's more, it was in SoHo that I got an idea of how tall I really am. You don't realize where you fall on the Bell Curve until you are in a true normal population, and I am a doggone giant compared to most people, who look me square in the chest. Being that she was all dolled up and I looked like a Secret Service agent, I spent the afternoon pretending I was a private security person. I so wished I had one of those little earbuds with the coiled wire sticking out of my collar. It was fun, standing behind her, carrying her packages and generally sending out physical and mental waves of "Don't be stupid, keep walking". Unsurprisingly, we were completely unmolested.

Nothing to see here. Move along

Broadcast News
After our Saturday morning adventure (the story of which you'll have to wait one more blog post for), we wandered down to 45th Street around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and managed to get on Fox & Friends. We met Rick Reichmuth the weatherman, and were on national TV for long enough to make us heroes in the eyes of our children (who screamed so loud back at home their grandmother and great grandmother couldn't hear what we said) and give us a tiny sliver of notoriety among the small number of people that watched F&F at that weather report break. We've each had several people come up to us afterward and say, "Were you on Fox?"

The Wife, with the Fox cameras foolishly ignoring her for some other live bit.

Paige Hopkins and Adam Housley are just over The Wife's head in the picture. All these TV people are so SHORT. Paige Hopkins, who looks so willowy on TV, is maybe 5'6", in heels. When The Wife went on the girls' trip, she towered over Gretchen Carlson and the other newscasters. I guess I am too tall for TV news.

Scott & Amy's Non-Italian Wedding
The wedding was really wonderful, as was the rehearsal dinner. The dinner was in the rotating restaurant on top of the Marriott Marquis, so we didn't have far to go for that. The wedding was in Greenwich Village at an old carriage house called, appropriately, the Carriage House. Many of Scott & Amy's friends were there, and the wedding planner had people stand up and say nice things about each of them between courses, though the wedding planner didn't really have to coax anyone to be complimentary. Scott, I have known since college. He's a brother to me in many ways, and I admire and appreciate him. Amy made a tremendous impression in only a few meetings, she's delightful and as much as I love Scott, it seems like he's rather fortunate she agreed to marry him. Both of them have had long and varied careers, and people came from all over to be there for them. It was a wonderful occasion. We got to see Todd Freeman, a friend of mine from college (and the Wife's from high school). We almost saw Mike Moore, who was my roommate at ACU before he was Scott's in Kenya as a missionary, but weather complicated his travel plans. Bummer.

A cropped and blurry unflashed photo of Scott & Amy. They STILL look good!

We ain't heavy, he's my brother

The new Mr. & Mrs. Sewell are going to be heading off for their honeymoon after the first of the year, to Kenya. Strangely enough, that was where I wanted to go for my honeymoon, until I realized I was a poor medical student. There are some benefits to delayed gratification, taking a dream vacation to an exotic location with your new wife is one of them and The Wife and I wish them all the best.

A Mexican In New York
One of my personal rules is to not eat Tex-Mex outside of Texas. Nobody seems to be able to get it right. An exception is a place called Chevy's Fresh Mex at 259 W 42nd Street, a floor or two below the Lowes' movie theater across the street from Mary Poppins. We needed some hot sauce after seeing The Kingdom (nothing to do with the picture, which was pretty good, we were just hungry), and in a Philippian moment we decided, "See, here is a restaurant." Good fajitas at a reasonable price. If you need fajitas in NYC, Chevy's has our stamp of approval.

New York State Of Mind
We had a wonderful four days in NYC, and really only scratched the surface. We will be back, if nothing else to bring the kids when they get a little older and easier to manage in a crowd. New York is still New York, a day after we left a cabbie ran over a family in Times Square (the part about the cabbies driving like nuts -- that much is true) and an off-duty Transit Police officer shot and killed a schizophrenic that stole a bunch of knives from a restaurant and sank them multiple times into a random woman on the street. But none of that happened around us, it was a really great time and we plan to go back, to see the Sewells and generally see the sights. It's a much different feel than Chicago, in Chicago the city empties out at night when everyone leaves for the suburbs. New York is always open, and I finally understand why people want to live there.

If I had unlimited means, I'm pretty sure I would live there too, at least part of the time.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lost a Good One

You probably missed it, but a good man was killed outside of Ramadi on Thursday. He was a Sunni Arab tribal leader named Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha.

He's not the first in his family to be killed. His father and three brothers were killed, not by rampaging US troops, but by his erstwhile "brothers" in Al Qaeda. A year ago, a year less a day from the time of his death, he got together with like-minded tribal leaders and declared war on Al Qaeda. See, AQ has this marketing angle of "Hey, we're all brothers here. Let's go forth and kick enemy X!", and since they bring along cash and expendables like explosives and people to drive them to public places and explode them on enemy X (Shi'a, US forces, anybody they don't like), they can achieve a level of acceptance in the short term. It turns out that they are pretty caustic to have around, though. They shoot people for suspected sexual impropriety. They dictate the content of mullahs' sermons. They cut off fingers for smoking, and they feel that as "brothers" they should have equal access to the tribe's women for purposes of marriage. And when the tribe disagrees, they're as vicious to the tribes as they are to enemy X. The funerals of Abu Risha's father and three brothers must have convinced him of this, if nothing else did.

And so the tribes of Anbar sought out the most heavily-armed tribe they could find, the United States Army and Marines, and accords were reached, and the fortunes of Al Qaeda began to decline precipitously in Anbar. This of course moved Abu Risha way up the target list, and he accepted that risk, and ultimately paid the price as a victim of an IED. The stuff I read from Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, Michael Totten and other journalists who venture beyond the bar at the Baghdad Sheraton and go into the field told me that the reversal of fortune in Anbar, once thought lost to Iraq and the West, was in large part the doing of this man. He was brave to take the stand he did, and he'll be missed -- but it's entire possible that Iraq will be forever changed because of him. I hope the Army or Marines find some way to acknowledge him in a culturally-relevant way, to show the Iraqis that he had our respect. I am sure they will.

What's telling about this is that the Sunnis, at least, realized that while the Americans were invaders, foreigners and infidels, they were more reliable than AQ. The tribes of course knew all about Abu Ghraib, they knew all about Mahmudiyah, where a few 101st Airborne troops dishonored themselves with rape and murder, they knew about the Marines at Haditha, they even probably knew more lurid "facts" invented or passed along through the rumor mill. And yet, they came to the Americans for help.

For all the discussion of what went wrong in the post-invasion, what should have been done, etc., in my opinion the people of Iraq and the Sunnis in particular had to really live with and experience the sublime bliss of a Salafist dictatorship under AQ before they would ever come to us for help. We are outsiders in Iraq, we always will be. The fact that we're also heavily-armed outsiders who defend ourselves avidly, and that maybe 1 in 20 of us over there speaks Arabic, does not help. Despite all this, the Iraqi tribes in Anbar looked at AQ, looked at us, and decided that there would be no way to run their own affairs without our help. It took three-and-a-half years for the Sunni tribes to realize this, and it also took some time for our folks over there to accept the fact that the tribes were the key to pacification, but Anbar is now one of the safest parts of the country. Just like GWB said, they're standing up and we're standing down in Anbar. Rather than a top-down solution like the relatively inept and wrong-footed central government in Iraq, this is a bottom-up solution that began in Anbar to solve the problems of Anbar, with genuine popular support.

The reason AQI had to take out Sheikh Risha is that similar bottom-up solutions can be had in many places in Iraq, and a forthright rejection of their ideology by fellow Muslims is not good PR for them. The Sheikh of the Dulami tribe of Anbar is a much better ambassador than anyone from the US could ever be to other Sunni groups in the nation. If in the future he had reached out in peace to Shi'a leaders, it would make a stable and democratic Iraq that much more likely. He made himself a target by the fact of his success, and his willingness to share the secrets of his success with other parts of the country.

Now, it's possible that AQI did not assassinate him, there are plenty of Shi'a elements that would love to decapitate and continue decapitating Sunni leadership figures, simply because every other Sunni leadership figure since the British left in the 1920s has been mildly to severely hostile to Shi'a interests. Forensics may give some clue as to what kind of IED was used, and where the explosives came from. A device typical for Shi'a militias would be something that could cause problems politically in Iraq, because the Sunnis need to get used to the idea that their new Shi'a political overlords ARE going to have a say in the government. Were I running AQI's operations, I would do my best to get my hands on a MADE IN IRAN self-forging projectile IED for this hit just to make things politically worse, to re-drive the wedge between Sunni and Shi'a that was first placed when the Golden Mosque of Samarra was bombed. I mentioned in a prior post that things were relatively quiet in the immediate aftermath of that attack, but boy was I wrong.

The Sheikh will be missed. I hope the movement he inspired will continue, and that Iraq is better for his relatively short life. More Iraqis standing tall like he did against murderous 8th-century throwbacks like AQI is always a good thing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Broken Windows and Speeding

Saw this story about two dudes pulled over for speeding in South Carolina.

Turns out they were both on student visas from Egypt, in a car with PVC pipe, model rocket fuse, model rocket launchers and potassium chlorate. They said they were interested in 'model rocketry' and the KClO4 (potassium chlorate, for you non-chemists) was to be combined with sugar to make 'solid rocket motors'.

I have a little experience with KClO4, I saw my high school chemistry professor put a little sugar and a little KClO4 into a crucible and with a VERY long pipette, drop in a little sulfuric acid. The net result was a huge jet of flame in the crucible and a lot of otherwise bored high school students suddenly paying attention. KClO4 is a major oxidizer, if you need to burn a fuel you need an oxidizer to provide the extra oxygen for combustion. Notably, oxidizers and fuel are the primary components of every explosive device made.

These dudes deserve their day in court, and they need some good representation or they're going to get a long Cuban vacation. To compound their stupidity, they were pulled over for speeding with a car full of explosive makings seven miles from the US Navy facility where people being held for investigation of terrorist activity are held. It's entirely possible that they were at the absolute wrong place at the wrong time going the wrong speed, and they are the future of Egypt's Manned Space Program, but they're going to have to prove that assertion that now.

And all because -- they were speeding.

What I found interesting was the number of people that get pulled for speeding while they're in the process of committing another crime. Just recently here, a woman was stopped for speeding with $280,000 cash in her 2005 Honda. She claimed she was going from Georgia to Arizona, and basically abandoned the cash. It was seized, but you can't be arrested for having a lot of cash, at least she was smart enough not to be carrying anything actually illegal -- although counting the seizure it's probably one of the most expensive speeding citations ever written. I can only imagine the disappointment of whoever's cash that actually was.

Keep an eye on the news for how many drug arrests or other arrests arise from people pulled over for speeding. It's just mind-boggling how people committing felonies on the interstate don't seem to be smart enough to avoid attracting attention to themselves in the process of doing so. More Darwinism in action, I guess.

From that standpoint, speeding is one of the 'broken window' crimes that law enforcement keeps up on, simply because it seems to net the blatantly stupid felons in society. It may be cold comfort if you get pulled over for speeding, but most of the people reading this blog probably aren't pursuing felonious activity.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Saving the planet, one dead moose at a time

From German news magazine Der Speigel:

Norway is concerned that its national animal, the moose, is harming the climate by emitting an estimated 2,100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year through its belching and farting.

Norwegian newspapers, citing research from Norway's technical university, said a motorist would have to drive 13,000 kilometers in a car to emit as much CO2 as a moose does in a year.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the article, Norwegian hunters are expected to shoot 35,000 moose in the annual moose hunt this year, taking the equivalent of 35,000 cars off the road for a year. That's equivalent to installing 2.9 million compact fluorescent light bulbs in terms of CO2 emissions saved.

The bizarre interactions like this that are subparts of the larger climate issue give me pause when people say, "The science is settled". The "science" has yet to be settled in many areas of medicine, in part because we keep asking obvious questions and getting non-obvious or conflicting results. The science shouldn't ever be settled, because we should always be trying improve our results.

Alces alces, climate criminal

Lesson for the day: shooting a moose should count for carbon credits.

Go figure.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Got an iPhone

5:15 PM or thereabouts at the AT&T store on Loop 281. There are roughly 25 people in line here not counting the overachievers with nothing better to do and no job to work who snagged spots on the porch in front of the store. It's a festive atmosphere, kind of like a Star Wars opening. Thankfully no one is wearing a costume, though the next person to get in line behind me is a girl with an Apple logo T-shirt on. Could be worse, could be one of those latex Bajoran nose-prostheses. Major Star Trek convention vibe. I start to feel superior then I realize I am also here. Ah, humility. At least I didn't admit that I had nothing better to do all day and bring a chair.

5:50 PM -- The AT&T Wireless people emerge from the store and pass out these fliers. No, they won't tell us how many iPhones they have, but they will give us a piece of paper that most of us already know. This is a snooty cell-phone crowd, there has been market research here. The words 'Nintendo Wii' and 'PS3' are batted around. Everyone who has showed up is surprised that everyone else showed up. Looks like a good launch. Note to self: buy more Apple stock.

5:55 PM. Have read and reread flier from AT&T Wireless people and am considering taking a crack at the Spanish side. This is a view of the people who arrived after me. More showed up after this, even.

6:00 PM. Woot. The line is moving. Here are the backs of the heads of the people in line ahead of me.

6:09 PM. They're letting us in 6 at a time since there are only six employees to serve us. The first guy emerges with his phone, gets into his car and drives away. What, no T-shirt? No black turtleneck, even?

6:45 PM. Got my phone. Off to a family dinner, then back home. Note: there is a 10% restocking fee if you crack the plastic and then chicken out and try to return it. That's $59.99 for buyer's regret. I don't have any. They seal your bag in the store, I don't know why. Maybe security, the phone is pretty fungible at least from the standpoint that it's not tied to you when you leave the store. Have to get it home to sign up, but on the plus side it's a breeze in the store, just pay for the phone and scoot. It uses all the standard iPod charging stuff, so if you have an iPod you're set. I do, and I am. I pass on the belt holder for now, I don't know what's going to work the best, I need to see how big the thing is. There are a couple on display in the store, but I still don't know if I want vertical or horizontal carry. I went with the 8GB model. Hey, go big or go home, right?

Apparently, they also do take-out.

The iPhone box with the $60 shrink-wrap. Even if you don't like it that plastic is three Jacksons, baby.

I was just cleaning my knife when it went off and split the plastic, honest Officer. The box lid reveals an iPhone on an upper tray, and...

...the earbuds you won't use, the charging stand and the wall-charger. Heck, the wall-charger is $30 all by its lonesome retail, not bad. Yet another white iPod charging cable, too.

Thing is SMALL, man. My Nokia E62 is a little bulky, but the iPhone is thinner side to side and...

...a LOT thinner front to back. Length is about the same.

There is also a raft of papers, but they're fairly self-explanatory, like the one that says not to dry it in a microwave if it gets wet, and not to get it wet in the first place. Apparently, common sense isn't if you're a lawyer. I think they're being overly cautious on that one. I mean, the microwave didn't hurt the cat overmuch, so...nevermind. The other black thing is apparently a lens cloth to wipe off your fingerprints.

It takes 13 minutes and 55 seconds to download iTunes+Quick Time 7.3, and at 18:40 into the process the computer is rebooted with iTunes 7.3 and the iPhone begins to sync with the computer. Being as I already had an iTunes Store account and was an AT&T customer I didn't have to do much, though I don't remember getting to choose between the three plans. The unlimited data rate is only $20 a month for the iPhone, which saves me $30 a month over the rate for the E62. Over the 2-year service committment that means I'll basically pay for the iPhone in data plan savings.

Counting the time from starting iTunes and updating to iTunes 7.3, it takes 25 minutes and 19 seconds to activate my phone. Slick.

Still have trouble with Outlook contact synchronization, I dumped from the E62 back into Outlook (hadn't done that before) and then tried to go from Outlook to the iPhone -- no dice. Most likely my mistake. Instead I synched to my Yahoo Address book and went from the email addresses there to the phone numbers I read off of Outlook. The typing on the iPhone is fine, and I have pretty big fingers.

Basically, I got nothin' to complain about. Like most Apple stuff, you pull it out of the box and you pretty much start using it. The Safari browser seems to work well and the WiFi found my access point and works very well.

This picture is about as recursive as I can get without posting this and then photographing it. Between the lack of flash and motion artifact the text of the last post here looks blurry, but IRL it doesn't.

The phone feels quick, it's not sluggish. It's charging now, we'll see how long it takes to crap out. Media reports say 14 hours of continuous use, with six of those some combination of voice and data. We'll see.

I think Mr. Jobs hit a home run with this one. It's a better browser than my Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, the screen is a little smaller and less resolution but it doesn't feel that way, and it's smaller, easier and lighter than my Nokia E62.

I'll let you know how it works out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

We got Wii'd

First Daughter, looking appropriately abashed (after some coaching) and taking responsibility

It had to happen at some point. We're not the first.

A pleasant April night. A spirited session of Wii Bowling between 9 year-old First Son and 7 year-old First Daughter. The boy is up by 9 pins, in the 8th frame. First Daughter is trying mightily to beat him. Wii games can be played from your chair, with nothing more than your wrist -- but where's the fun in that? Maybe the accelerometer can tell how much you want to win if you swing it very hard...

She was wearing the wrist strap, we're pretty serious about that. The Wife and I had heard the stories, we always made them wear the strap. But we didn't always check that the cinch was tight. Oops.

A mighty throw I witnessed. A throw of authority, recklessness, enthusiasm and maybe a tinge of desperation. And then, it happened.

Psychologists who investigate trauma describe the ability to minutely observe dramatic events as tachypsychia, an abnormal perception of time. From my perch on the couch I saw the follow through, and the unfortunate release of the controller. "No problem", I thought in the briefest sliver of assessment, "she's wearing the wrist strap."

And then I saw the strap seem to dilate, slowly expanding to slip the bound of her wrist, and finally slide past the fingers, the controller and the strap now assuming a ballistic path. The unhindered controller flew arrow-straight, the wrist strap whirling gleefully like a thin, grey flag of freedom behind it.

In the time it took to travel the six feet or so from its launch point to its final impact, I had time to realize the error in not tightening the cinch, become briefly angry that this event I was witnessing was occurring at all, calculate its trajectory, realize with a dawning horror that the TV was about to be hit, think for a moment, "Naah. That's too silly to be true," recheck the projected impact point to see if it was going to hit the cabinet, and finally realize that this was happening, the impact was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do about it. I actually became briefly interested to see what was going to happen, and only flinched when I remembered that televisions can sometimes explode.

The Kubler-Ross stages of grief and tragedy, all flickering by in a third of a second.

Then, time resumed its normal course, and with a comic book CRACK! the Wiimote struck the screen of our Sony WEGA 43" rear-projection television, at the time a little over 7 years old.

Surprisingly, at the time, little to nothing happened. After a brief assessment, the First Daughter fled the scene for the darkest recesses of her bedroom closet accompanied by a dopplering fury of wails of decreasing pitch and tears, sure that I would be furious. I was, briefly. But the TV kept going. Closer inspection revealed a stellate series of cracks in the lower right corner. But this is a projection television, the screen is reflective and there is no high-vacuum tube to explode, as a standard TV would. The surface glass was cracked but with minimal distortion of the image. It took much less time to realize our TV had, um, acquired personality but would continue to serve than it did to coax the girl out of the closet.

It's impressive how perspective changes things. I'd been wanting to upgrade our standard-defintion TV downstairs, but previously had no reason to do so. I got a good story without much in the way of real damage. And First Daughter was so distraught that other than a moderately stern warning about using the cinch on the Wiimote wrist strap, I couldn't bring myself to punish her. Accidents happen, this one won't happen again.

The TV still works, I don't know how or if we'll fix it. A simple replacement of the glass should work, but we haven't called anyone about it yet. The new part probably costs more than the value of the unit, and it doesn't really interfere with the function of the thing. Having the crack in the middle of the family room also is a silent reminder to the kids that unplanned events can and will occur, and a modicum of preparation and consideration in your life is probably wise. Reminds me of that, too.

A minimal price to pay.

The crack

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Album Review: The Killers Sam's Town

At the risk of a fairly unqualified veering into Lucas Hendrickson territory, this is one of the first album's I've cared about in a long time, at least enough to consider writing a review.

I don't listen to the radio much, if at all. I stopped watching MTV when they stopped being a music video channel, I dumped VH1 about the same time. I mostly listen to BBC or Fox, occasionally MSNBC on XM. Should I venture into FM radio territory, we finally have a JACK-FM clone in the Longview/Tyler area and I listen to that, i.e., mostly retro. I know what I like, I don't venture out too much. I like most everything except gangsta rap and hip-hop, I find them to be overly repetitive, profane or repetitively profane in the main.

So basically, I missed The Killers' first CD, which I will now have to go buy. My music listening mainly happens in the background of TV shows, so when I heard a song in the background of a party scene in the ER episode "Photographs & Memories" a couple of months ago, I had to run over to Heard On TV, a wonderful Web 2.0 database of music heard on TV shows. There I found the infectious tune was "Read My Mind" by The Killers.

Now, I had seen The Killers once when I mistakenly watched a portion of the MTV Video Music Awards, an experience that made me thankful for the more innocent (and musically-superior, IMO) MTV of my youth. I was a bit underwhelmed. I knew vaguely that they had a new album out back then, but at that time I didn't think about zipping over to their MySpace page or their artist page at Island and listening to any of their stuff. They seemed to me to be one in a series of the "The" bands: The Fray, The Shins, The Strokes, The Vines, etc. In other words, another derivative band at whose feet the declining fortunes of the music industry is more properly lain, rather than downloaders. And since I buy my CDs and rip them myself for listening, I don't like spending $15 for nothing, or for one good song.

(Note: I have since bought CDs by The Fray and almost the whole catalog of The Shins, and they're great. Still haven't gone there for The Strokes or The Vines, if you have and you enjoy them, good for you.)

"Read My Mind" stuck in my head, though, and I figured that Hastings had to have a used CD available for Sam's Town, and I was right. In addition to "Read My Mind", the best single on the album, I found another 13 little sonic jewels in the appropriately-named jewel case.

Knowing nothing about The Killers, I didn't know that lead singer Brandon Flowers had said that Sam's Town was going to be "one of the best albums of the last 20 years", and listening to it without much in the way of expectations or foreknowledge of his statement, I actually came to the same conclusion myself. It's the first really standout album I've heard since The Joshua Tree dropped in 1986 that I know I'll still be listening to in 20 years. I can understand why this level of arrogance might have peeved the reviewer at Rolling Stone, who panned the daylights out of the disc. It still went Platnium in the US and UK, so apparently critical disdain isn't all it's cracked up to be these days.

This is a derivative album of sorts, but derivative of things that I really like, being a child of the 1980s music scene. Their first album was apparently a well-received New Wave-esque effort, and I still think there's a lot of good stuff to mine in the 1980s. The Killers were declared by one source to be "the best British band to come from the United States", and there's a lot of British influences in the album, little hints of "Madworld" by Tears for Fears in "Bling (Confessions of a King)", a lot of U2-esque vocals and minimalist guitar work on "Read My Mind", synth tracks in the background that recall Depeche Mode and Erasure. There's an obvious Springsteen influence that somehow had penetrated my perception of the album before I'd heard it, but it's there and it really sounds good. There is some Cars-esque feel to "For Reasons Unknown", and for someone who prefers most of what the 80s produced to nearly anything recorded since, that's a good thing.

The Wife noted the limitations of Brandon Flowers voice, and the limitations are on display. He can't do what Bono does, he occasionally sounds like Bruce Springsteen trying to do Bono, which isn't always good. To use the American Idol term, he sounds a little "pitchy" in spots. But the instrumentations are spectacular, and the lyrics are engaging and often clever. She listens to less music than I do, I know what she likes and I bird-dog new material for her. She loves this one as much as I do.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Jack Bauer Tally: Season 6 and Finale

Well, the two-hour final was short on both combat and drama, unless you're Mike Doyle, in which case you're also short on eyes.

To summarize, Josh Bauer was taken to an offshore oil platform secretly owned by BXJ Technologies, the front company for Phillip Bauer. This involved a fake FB subcircuit board that exploded in Mike Doyle's face, blinding him and allowing Phillip Bauer's bad guys to abscond with the kid just as Jack and Bill Buchannan drove up. Bill had been called back into unofficial and borderline-illegal service by his wife, Karen Hayes, who used Bill to spring Jack from custody and interfere with Phillip Bauer's plot. Turns out the offer to give the US the FB subcircuit board was bogus, Big Daddy was working with the Chinese all along, and only Jack knew (or rather, felt) this to be the case.

Once the doublecross was exposed, the plan became to blow the FB subcircuit board, the oil platform and anyone on the oil platform into unusable shards with an F-18 strike, leaving Jack and Bill precious little time to get onto the platform and rescue Josh. Jack opened the back of the CTU Suburban nearby and retrieved weapons, then Jack and Bill got into a nearby CTU helicopter, stole it and headed out to the platform.

With Bill flying and Jack on weapons, Jack got three kills with the MP7 he got from the back of the Suburban, and another couple of kills with the USP after landing. He rescued Josh, confronted a blown-up and burnt Cheng (who was taken to the copter as a prisoner), and left his mortally-wounded father to die on the station, making a daring leap onto the ladder dangled from the chopper by Bill. Short of the beach, Jack leapt off the ladder into the ocean and waded ashore.

Jack then made his way to Ashley Raines' side at her father's house, confronted her father while holding a silenced Beretta 92F in his face about the lack of respect he'd gotten, and eventually decided to leave Audrey in the care of her father. The season ends.

In other developments, Chloe fainted because she's exhausted, dehydrated and pregnant. She and Morris make up. Karen and Bill get to retire, the VP Noah Daniels comes to the realization that it is actually hard to be the President. No word on Lisa Miller's condition, but then, do we care? We meet Milo Pressman's brother, who tells Nadia that Milo did what he did because he loved her, then disappears after cleaning out Milo's locker.

As far as season 7 goes, there will be one in January 2008. Allegedly there is a movie in the works as well. I would imagine that the "X" and "J" in "BXJ" are potential bad guys, and it's entirely possible that Big Daddy Bauer taking a shot to the lung from his grandson didn't kill him, it just made him meaner. It's an odd year in the cycle, meaning that it's time for a domestic or other white foreign terrorist and not an Islamic one. Either way, I'm looking forward to it.

Overall, the season was not bad but was substantially less good than prior seasons, IMO. The first four hours were good, there were a couple of good episodes, but this one was a little too diffuse and the side-plots like Chloe-Morris and Nadia-Mike-Milo were just, well, dull. Total Jack Bauer-derived body count is 40 by my count, mostly pistol kills. This season, Jack killed an average of 1.6 people an hour.

Technical Note

Personal Defense Weapon

In general terms, pretty much every weapon is a personal defense weapon, but PDW in this usage refers to a NATO specification issued in 1989 for a weapon for support troops and vehicle crews that is smaller than a rifle, and penetrates armor better than a submachinegun.

The first alternate weapons intended for support troops was the United States' M1 Carbine, developed just before and in the early years of World War II. Over six million M1 Carbines were manufactured, they were popular because they were light and accurate within a few hundred yards, with low recoil. The round was the .30 Carbine, in essence a long pistol cartridge firing a 110-grain full metal jacketed bullet at just under 2000 fps. The limitation of the M1 Carbine became apparent in World War II and were magnified in Korea, namely limited stopping power. The M1 Garand was heavy and bulky but things shot by it center-of-mass tended to stay horizontal, the M1 Carbine had less success and required more hits.

The P90 by FN Herstal, a Belgian company, was the first modern, armor-piercing PDW to hit the market. It uses a 5.7x28mm round, similar in bullet diameter to the 5.56x45mm NATO round the M16 uses, but only a little over half the case length. The projectile is long and tapered, and is composed in such a way to make it tumble in tissue after penetrating armor. The rounds are highly energetic, leaving the barrel at 2,350 fps. According to Herstal, the SS190 round used by the P90 will penetrate anything less than NIJ Level III armor.

The Heckler & Koch MP7 is a PDW that fires a 4.6x30mm cartidge, an even smaller diameter than the P90, if in a longer case. It looks a lot like an updated Uzi, with a collapsible stock and a fold-down front grip, with a magazine well in the pistol grip. It's been a bit more popular in sales than the P90, being adopted by special units of the military and police around the world. Again, it's a tiny bullet designed to penetrate armor and then tumble to increase damage potential.

Both of these weapons are answers in search of a question. The armor-piercing requirement almost guarantees a tiny bullet at high velocity, unfortunately NATO can't rewrite physiology and physics as easily as it can issue a RFP. Tiny bullets don't do much damage, unless they happen to hit the brain or spine. Maybe NATO needs to issue a specification for a gun that only hits the central nervous system, that would work better.

Jack would have been better served with a garden-variety M4 in 5.56x45mm or some variant of the FN FAL in .308. There is a pistol in the 5.7x28mm caliber for sale in the US, it's called the FN Five-seveN. The armor-piercing ammo being illegal in the US, you're left with what amounts to a .22 Super-Magnum, of limited utility for self-defense. The 4.6x30mm is supposedly getting a handgun version as well, the H&K UCP. Big deal. Another mouse that roars in press releases but doesn't do very well in ballistic gelatin is not something the world needs more of, in my opinion.

I'll take an M4 any day.

The Score for the season:

Biting A Carotid9.0 -1 for lack of Universal Protocol
Shooting Curtis-8-10 own goal, +2 neck shot over a hostage
Shooting guard while handcuffed7.0+2 for while handcuffed
Handgun6.0+1 for saving hostages (Milo & Graeme's wife)
Handgun7.0+2 for disarm
Handgun6.0+1 for suppressor, because suppressors are cool
Handgun6.0+1 for suppressor
Handgun6.0+1 for through car window
Handgun10.0+5 for called headshot
Neck Snap7.0Always cool.
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Length of Chain8.0Strangled Fayed
Handgun5.0Chinese henchman
Handgun5.0Chinese henchman
Handgun6.0Merc, +1 for available cover
Assault rifle6.0Merc, +1 for three-round burst
Assault rifle6.0Merc, +1 for three-round burst
Strangled7.0Chief Merc, +1 for choke, +1 for neck snap
Handgun6.0Merc Driver, +1 for one-handed
Handgun6.0Merc, +1 for sliding entry
Handgun5.0Merc while running
Handgun5.0Merc on the stairs
MP-75.0Merc on the stairs
MP-75.0Merc on the stairs
MP-75.0Merc on the stairs
Handgun5.0Merc on the stairs
Handgun5.0Merc on the stairs

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Crimson Trace Lasergrips

In watching the handgun market over the last 20 years, it's been interesting to see the transition from revolvers coexisting with semiautomatics to being completely eclipsed by them. I figured there would be a window where revolvers were cheap for a while due to overproduction, but it seems I misjudged the ability of firearms makers to anticipate (or even direct) the market. Revolvers that should be cheap because of a lack of demand are now more expensive because they're practically a specialty item, apparently revolver production was scaled down in close parallel to market demand. Other than "cowboy" models for the Single-Action Shooting Society and monster handcannons like the S&W 500 that would blow most semiautomatic pistol actions into shrapnel, there isn't a wide supply of revolvers to be had without some serious looking.

The one apparent exception to this is the small-frame revolver market. The J-Frame S&W and its various competitors from Ruger, Rossi, Taurus and Charter Arms is still an icon and is still in production 57 years after its introduction in 1950 as the "Chief's Special". It's visible on the hip of every overweight detective on most any cop show you may have watched. It's popular for several very good reasons: it's small, it's reliable and it shoots a decent round, usually a .38 Special or for the truly masochistic, a .357 Magnum.

These are commonly referred to as "Ladies' Guns", because they're small and fit well into a purse, but J-Frame S&Ws are not nearly so much fun to shoot as they are to carry. The recoil is stout, and is not mitigated by much in the way of mass of the gun itself. The sights are poor, limiting accuracy. Detractors put it in the "get off me" category, guns that are useful for extremely short-range encounters. While there are revolver aficionados that can hit targets at 25-50 yards with a snub-nose revolver that kind of accuracy takes practice, and practice with a J-Frame just isn't that much fun. I'm probably middle-of-the-road in recoil tolerance, I don't really notice a 9mm, I know I've fired a .40 S&W or .45 ACP, and .44 Magnums I don't consider enjoyable in the least. Shooting a .38 Special +P like Cor-Bon's 110-grain load is on par with shooting 240-grain bullets out of a full-size Dirty Harry-style .44 Magnum in terms of felt recoil. I can only hope it hurts as much to be hit by those bullets as it does to launch them in the first place. In my opinion, it's a "Ladies' Gun" only for ladies who don't flinch at recoil and practice regularly.

I got my J-Frame almost 10 years ago, it's a Smith & Wesson 639-2, with a shrouded hammer to allow single-action or double action shooting. It's very easy to carry, I have a Galco PH158 pocket holster I got a few years ago to replace an Uncle Mike's Pocket Professional that finally wore out from being carried around. The Galco breaks up the outline of the gun well, and it stays in your pocket well when drawing.

My main complaint with the J-Frame is the uncomfortable shooting of the thing, this is due in part to the small grips of a J-Frame and my giant meathook hands. The other issue is the sights, they're a channel-and-front-blade affair that can be very hard to see. Fortunately for me, there's a solution to both of those problems.

A company called Crimson Trace has been making laser sighting devices for years, and I finally bought one of their grip sets for my 638. The first time I saw a laser-aiming device it was on an .22LR submachinegun called the American-180 on (hold onto your hats, this is old) the TV show That's Incredible! back around 1980. Since then, the cost of laser diodes has come down to the point where you can buy lasers alongside the gum and nail clippers in the checkout aisle. Crimson Trace's lasers aren't that cheap, but they are fairly precision devices that have to withstand the force of recoil without losing alignment.

The only major drawback or lasers is that they don't tell you what you're shooting, you still have to identify a target, and it's usually better to use the sights. In a high-stress situation where you know what you want to hit, the red dot of a laser will tell you about where your shot will land, and for a firearm with such miserable sights to begin with, the laser is an upgrade from the channel-and-blade.

Normally, I'm not an overly mechanical person, and disassembling a firearm other than for routine cleaning isn't something I choose to do often. But installing the Lasergrips was about as simple as it comes. Besides the grips, the package includes instructions, a couple of screws, a pair of lithium coin batteries, a pair of teeny Allen wrenches (I guess the second one is in case you lose the first, they're really small) and warning stickers to go on the side of your gun to tell folks it's got a dangerous laser in it. In the picture below, the original grip is already off the gun, there is a single screw in the grip that comes out easily.

The Naked Gun, the grips and parts kit

The first thing to do is to snap in the batteries. They fit easily into the grip panels, and I got them right side up on the first try (the instructions tell you how to do this). The diode is at the upper left part of the grip, the activation panel is visible just below at the level of the battery.

I would say 'activation stud', but those are my fingers in the picture, so the last word would be redundant. Ha.

After that comes the not-complex process of putting in two screws. One is short, one is long. One is front, one is back. Again, the instructions help.

Activation pad is just below the trigger. The grips fill in behind the trigger guard, eliminating a pinch-spot during firing

There is a tiny switch in the base of the grip to turn off the sight should you need to do so. The instructions say this won't extend battery life. There is a serial number on the butt of the gun, but I blurred it out with GIMP. Don't get nosy, that number is between me and the BATFE.

And that's it. The laser is on the right side of the gun and projects forward and slightly upward. According to the manual the sight is indexed for 30 feet, and as this picture shows, it's pretty close. Should you feel smarter than the factory, there are two tiny adjustment ports that the Allen wrenches are used to manipulate. Don't ask me which does which, I didn't mess with it. The activation pad falls right under your ring finger, and it's easy and natural to use with a normal firing grip.

Stands out a bit, don't it?

The laser aperture is the little ridge at the top of the grip. It seems like it might be blocked by some part of your hand, but it doesn't work out that way. The five rounds beside it are the nasty Cor-Bon 110gr +P .38 Special rounds that normally live in the chamber. We hates them, me precious. I guess they do what I bought them to do, but goodness they hurt. I have some 135-grain Gold Dots that I will probably replace them with on the next trip to the range.

I generally carry a Bianchi Speed Strip with six Federal Nyclad rounds for a reload, speedloaders work but they're kind of bulky. The advantage of the Nyclads is that a) they perform well IRL and b) they don't get lead all over the inside of your pocket. The lead is sealed behind plastic, making it neater. There is no easy way to reload a J-Frame with a 2" barrel, the extractor rod is too short to fully eject the fired rounds, so you have to claw them out of the way to reload. If you have to reload a J-Frame, you're probably in over your head already, but always carry spare ammo.

And finally, back in the Galco where the 638 lives.

Crimson Trace Lasergrips are an easy install on J-Frame S&W revolvers, and increase the usability and controllability of these easy to carry and conceal pistols. I'll let you know how they work at the range, in my hands a J-Frame generally is wildly inaccurate beyond conversational distances, but we'll see if a good aiming point helps.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Texas Gas Tax: Right Idea, Wrong Application

Now this is just a bad idea:

The Texas House last week voted to give motorists a summer break from the state’s 20-cents-per-gallon gas tax. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, tacked the surprise measure onto a Senate gas tax collection bill.

He said a couple driving a pickup and a car could save more than $100 over the three months.

But such a tax break would cost the state $500 million to $700 million, and some predict the Senate won’t go along with it.

Gasoline prices are high. Get used to it. There are as many middle-class people in the Middle Kingdom as there are people, total, in the United States. For the rest of our lives we'll be bidding against them for petroleum, until the Indian middle class comes online, when we'll be bidding against them and the Chinese. A tax abatement doesn't change the underlying issue, which is that there are more people chasing gasoline than there were before.

My homeboy Senator John Cornyn is quoted later in the article:

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a speech last week that Democrats and Republicans need to work on a bipartisan energy plan that would provide meaningful relief to American consumers.

“There are a lot of laws the Congress can pass — we can even repeal laws — but we can’t repeal the law of supply and demand. And the only way we’ll see these gas prices come down is to form new supply.

He said the country has gone from 324 refineries to 132, adding that it needs to remove “some of the regulatory impediments which have made it impossible to create a new refinery in this country in the last 30 years.

Emphasis added. Actually, Senator, we could also reduce demand. Take that $500-700 million dollars and make it a yearlong sales tax rebate on cars that get 30 MPG or better on the new EPA fuel efficiency standard and you'd do more to reduce demand than building a new refinery or three will do to increase supply. The chief beneficiaries of a sales tax suspension on gasoline would be people who use the most, while the chief beneficiaries of a sales tax reduction on new cars would be people who, by their purchase decision, choose to burn less gas in the future.

Believe it or not, people, gasoline prices going higher are the only way to get people to use less gas. If we use less gas, our refinery capacity is just fine. Our dependence on foreign oil is lessened. And gas prices will come down for a longer period of time than just the summer.

I don't care particularly if gasoline prices increase, it will make alternative domestic fuels like ethanol and syngas from coal more of a possibility -- and eventually, a necessity. But a tax-free summer will just make the fall that much less fun, and a couple of Gulf hurricanes hitting production facilities will easily undo the suspension of the state gasoline sales tax.

And lest you think this is a uniquely Texan idea, two state legislators from Illinois are proposing to eliminate the state's 5% sales tax on gasoline, permanently. Connecticut lawmakers are also consdiering a temporary gasoline tax reduction. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota recently vetoed a 5 cent per gallon increase in Minnesota's gasoline tax as part of a transportation bill. As prices increase the short-term populist solution will be to eliminate gas taxes when states are flush with cash, and state budgets are extremely healthy this year.

I'm not a big fan of taxes in general, and further raising of gasoline taxes is not something I'll get behind very quickly. Diverting money from the economy to the hands of politicians is typically neither productive nor an economically-useful endeavor. If legislators want to take some of the money they're already getting and try to use it to "fix" a problem, then they should do the long-term smart thing and not the politically-expedient thing.

Don't treat the symptom, treat the disease.

Update 5/17/2007: The folks over at Ecotality, an environmental blog I frequent have cross-posted this. Thanks, Doug!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jack Bauer Tally: Hour 22

Jack begins the episode in fine form. When the bad guys take Josh his nephew away, he gets kicked in the ribs for trying to calm down his sister-in-law. Kicking Jack in the ribs is always a bad move. When Josh is escorted out, Chief Merc attempts to move the CTU employees into secure holding rooms so they can get away without being followed. Jack tells Nadia, who is by now certainly ready to beat someone down, to watch for his move. In the hallway, Jack decks one of the mercs and engages Chief Merc in hand-to-hand, finally strangling Chief Merc with his own web gear and then going for the always-effective cervical dislocation. Nice.

Nadia is wrestling with one Merc and appears to be losing, which is unsurprising since she goes about a buck-oh-five, and surprise only lasts for so long. Down the hall, Morris finally gets to vent and obtains a quality choke hold on one merc, taking him down (and fulfilling my prediction from last week). Nadia is about to be seeing the business end of a G36 when Mike Doyle shoots her attacker through the glass and the fight is over. CTU is rescued!

Jack gets back in action into the sewer, following the Chinese and Josh to their assembly point. Just as the Chinese are pulling away, Jack pops out of the hole and, one-handed, manages to kill the driver of the (moving) lead vehicle through the driver's side window, blocking in the car with Josh. The CTU team pours into the building, Jack nails another guy who doesn't know the difference between cover and concealment and, with the assistance of covering fire makes another sliding entry behind the last rearguard, getting another pistol kill.

Cheng, Josh and another Chinese Expendable make it to the roof of the building, Jack kills the expendable with a shot to the head coming up the stairs and confronts Cheng, whose gun (a Glock) has apparently been shot empty. Passing up the chance for Instant Karma, Jack offers to let Cheng live if he tells him where Josh is. Josh is stuck hanging from pipes below the walkway, and Cheng gets away as Jack is rescuing Josh.

Big Daddy Phillip Bauer is understandably disappointed that his legacy Josh hasn't been successfully kidnapped, and tells Cheng the deal is off. He appears later in the episode.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Lisa Miller loses her cool and finally bashes her traitor boyfriend with a wine bottle and later a lamp, which doesn't prevent him from strangling her. As predicted (I'm 2 for 2), Tom 'Biscuit' Lennox arrives with a Secret Service team and BoyToy uploads the files to the KGB. Crisis averted, right?

Wrong. Suvorov the Russian President knows his agent has been compromised, and the KGB tail on the guy saw the whole thing go down. The Russians are massing on the border of some Central Asian country and planning to put a smack on the Americans there with mechanized forces. Apparently they haven't gotten the data on the Sensor Fused Weapon and still think mechanized assaults have some kind of prayer, but Russians have not traditionally been casualty-averse.

At this point, Vice-President Daniels gets a phone call from Big Daddy Bauer with a deal: the FB sub-circuit board for Josh and a ticket out of the country. Willing to let one kid be kidnapped in return for averting a war, CTU gets the order and the final scene is Josh Bauer flying off in a helicopter with Jack under a pile of CTU tactical officers.

The next episode is a two-hour season finale. From the previews, there is a large explosion, and a rather roasted-looking Cheng says to Jack, "You're too late." The simple solution is to give Josh Bauer a hideout gun to kill his evil grandpa after the exchange takes place, but having lost his dad that day I'm thinking Josh's head isn't in the right place. I'll go 50/50 that Josh is actually Jack's son. They will get the circuit board back, it appears Cheng will die. As with all seasons of 24, it's how they do it that's the fun part.

Technical Notes

1. Choke Holds

Properly used, a submission "choke hold" isn't choking at all.

The proper pressure points are over carotid arteries. There are pressure sensors in the carotid wall (called baroreceptors) that read blood pressure and tell the heart to slow down if the pressure in the vessel is too high. Now, they can't tell the difference between internal pressure which would require slowing the heart, and external pressure from a properly-executed choke hold, so with pressure on the carotids the vagus nerve is stimulated to slow the heart down. Blood pressure drops, and without enough forward flow in the carotids, unconsciousness takes 10-15 seconds. Of all the ways to incapacitate someone, this is the most effective, but it does require a firm grip and optimal position. Pressure should be applied to the sides of the neck, not the front. An improperly-executed choke hold will damage the larynx and could cause asphyxiation. Ideally, get the front of their neck in the crook of your elbow, your left arm behind their head and pull back with the right arm and push forward with the left. Proper positioning is shown in the figure below.

They'll only be out for 20 seconds or so, so remember Duvall's Law Of Horror Movie Situations: Never leave an enemy alive behind you. I'm sorry for the law enforcement folks on the ground, if some bonehead tries to hijack my plane and I can reach them I'm going for the choke hold, no submission, followed a vigorous cervical dislocation or liberal application of whatever weapon they managed to smuggle. Question somebody else. If I have to fight someone open-handed in a hijack situation, only one of us is getting up.

2. Run and Gun?

I have to differ a bit with Jack making full-speed running pistol shots. I'm no pistol master, but I've seen plenty of video of people who can run-and-gun on the IPSC circuit, and if people could run and shoot one-handed like that the IPSC folks would. When it comes to pistol shooting, if Rob Leatham, Jerry Miculek or Brian Enos can't do it in real life, most likely nobody else can, either. I'd rather see Jack stop and use two hands, or go prone coming out of the hole. Some people do shoot one-handed, in Modern Technique it's usually not by choice. I'll give Jack style points, in the tally, but I'm unimpressed. They did show Jack and Doyle holstering before jumping down into the hole to the sewer, so they do show good gun handling in the series. They just are willing to sacrifice it if the shot looks cool, which bothers me a bit.

3. Sociopaths

In the episode, Phillip Bauer is referred to as a 'sociopath', and this certainly seems applicable. There is evidence for a genetic basis for sociopathy, Graeme Bauer was certainly a chip off the old sociopathic block and Jack Bauer displays some sociopathic tendencies as well.

The rules don't apply to him, he has issues with authority when it suits him. He doesn't seem to have much of a problem killing people without hesitation when needed, and he's very willing to inflict pain without much in the way of remorse. He's not risk-averse, and the prospect of physical pain really doesn't seem to bother him. If Jack is a sociopath, this may explain why being held captive and tortured for almost two years has had little effect on him, he lacks the emotional capacity to be overly disturbed by the treatment. He makes a good undercover agent because he lies easily.

He does break the mold in that he's a good planner, something that most sociopaths aren't. His attachment to his wife and to a few others is a good sign but it doesn't mean he's not a sociopath. It means he's a well-adjusted person with a sociopath's brain: little emotional response to highly disturbing activities.

The estimated prevalence of sociopathy, or more properly, Antisocial Personality Disorder, is estimated to be as high as 5.8% of males and 1.2% of females, with higher numbers in some populations (i.e., prison). Sociobiology predicts that the trait of ASPD is retained in the human genome because it's useful to have some functionally fearless people in the gene pool. If you abuse a kid with ASPD genetics, you can end up with a really dangerous person, environment is thought to be slightly more predominant in the creation of a sociopath. On the other hand, if a person with abnormally low fear levels and a willingness to do risky things is connected to his parents and peers, you end up with the kind of people who'll HALO jump into combat, become test pilots or run into burning buildings to save others.

Not that every firefighter is a sociopath, but there are some folks walking around who just don't get scared like other people, and we need them, especially if they're socially-appropriate. If there's ever a genetic test or functional MRI screening for "limbic underactivation", it wouldn't surprise me to see a bunch of otherwise nice people doing dangerous jobs showing limited emotional responses to otherwise horrible things. People can learn to under-respond, I know I have for certain situations related to work, but there are some people that are just born to do it.

So, be nice to your kids.

The Score so far:

Biting A Carotid9.0 -1 for lack of Universal Protocol
Shooting Curtis-8-10 own goal, +2 neck shot over a hostage
Shooting guard while handcuffed7.0+2 for while handcuffed
Handgun6.0+1 for saving hostages (Milo & Graeme's wife)
Handgun7.0+2 for disarm
Handgun6.0+1 for suppressor, because suppressors are cool
Handgun6.0+1 for suppressor
Handgun6.0+1 for through car window
Handgun10.0+5 for called headshot
Neck Snap7.0Always cool.
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Handgun5.0Fayed henchman
Length of Chain8.0Strangled Fayed
Handgun5.0Chinese henchman
Handgun5.0Chinese henchman
Handgun6.0Merc, +1 for available cover
Assault rifle6.0Merc, +1 for three-round burst
Assault rifle6.0Merc, +1 for three-round burst
Strangled7.0Chief Merc, +1 for choke, +1 for neck snap
Handgun6.0Merc Driver, +1 for one-handed
Handgun6.0Merc, +1 for sliding entry
Handgun5.0Merc while running
Handgun5.0Merc on the stairs