Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Vacation and range report

I've been on vacation since last Friday. I'll be going back to work next Tuesday. It's a nice break.

Last weekend we went up to New York state to visit with one of my cousins and his family. He has two daughters -- 6 and 10 -- and my girls got to spend a couple days with them. This is only third time they've met and they get along really well, so we're hoping that they'll be able to come down to PA during Spring Break.

The weather was nice today, upper 40s and sunny, and Judith told me to go shooting. Who am I to argue? I went up to Wicen's with my Century R1a1 FAL and Savage Mark IIGL.

This was the first time I'd had the R1A1 out. You may recall that I had to send it back to Century because the hole in the receiver through which the gas piston passes was off postition, causing the piston to bind. Well, they did in fact fix it. I ran 50 rounds of Australian surplus 7.62 NATO through the rifle, from three different mags, and it ran perfectly with the gas system set to "4." (I didn't even try other settings.) I only shot out to 50 yards, where it was grouping in a bit under 2". Most FALs will shoot into about 4" at 100 yards so I'm fine with the accuracy.

This is my second FAL. The first was a Century L1A1 which I grew to dislike, largely due to the unbelievably loud muzzle brake. Rather than a brake, the new rifle has an American made copy of the Belgian short combo flash suppressor/grenade launcher. Even sans brake, recoil was not bad at all for a rifle shooting 7.62 NATO, and the muzzle blast was not obnoxious.

One thing I noticed upon getting the rifle home was that the Aussie ammo is clean. There were no unburnt powder granules in the bore. I don't think I've ever seen such clean ammo before. I have maybe 80 rounds of it left. Unfortunately, the supply of this seems to have dried up and I'll have to stock up on other 7.62 NATO, likely more of the South African in 140 round battle packs.

I put about 100 rounds through the Savage. This was the first time I'd shot it since rescoping it with my Weaver 4x28mm scope in high rings, which are necessary for the bolt to clear the ocular bell. The ammo I was shooting was CCI .22 LR Subsonic Hollow Point. It's very quiet and accurate stuff. When the crappy Savage trigger didn't cause me to yank the shot, I was able to put them all into well under an inch at 50 yards from a rest. Since my Ruger 10/22 also likes this CCI ammo I am going to place an order from Natchezz for at least 1000 rounds of it.

However, like my 10/22 needed a Power Custom hammer to improve the trigger pull, the Mark IIGL needs an aftermarket replacement trigger. Rifle Basix makes one for the Savage rimfire rifles that should bring the pull down to a couple of pounds with no creep. I will probably order one each for the Mark IIGL and my 93GL in .22 Magnum. (Incidentally, I've already tried a Savage home trigger job I found online. It improved the stock trigger but not enough.)

Why all the fuss about trigger pull? It's very simple. It is extremely difficult to shoot a gun accurately if the trigger pull is heavy, gritty, or too long. The effort expended to get the gun to fire has the side effect of disturbing your aim. This is why target rifles and pistols often have trigger pulls measured in ounces, not pounds. I'm not looking to get a pull that low, but something in the 3 to 3.5 lb range with minimal creep would go a long way to allowing me to extract the last bit of intrisic accuracy from these rifles.

A final observation, this time about optics. The Mark IIGL wears a Weaver 4x28mm rimfire scope. My 10/22 sports a Nikon ProStaff 4x32mm rimfire scope. Having now used both at the range, the Nikon is definitely the better piece of glass. It is brighter and the optics are a bit more clear. The price for each of these scopes is right around the $110 - $120 range, depending upon where you get it. So, while in the past I've recommended the Weaver to folks looking for a good .22 scope, from now on I'm going to recommend the Nikon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Springfield XD in .45 ACP

{Tip of the hat to Mad Ogre.}
Springfield Armory is now listing the XD pistol in .45 ACP. Me likey. A friend has one in 9mm that I've fired and I'll take one over a Glock any day. The grip fits my hand much better. I haven't bought one though becuase up to now they've only been available in 9mmP, .40 S&W, and .45 GAP. I already have a Browning High Power for when I want to shoot 9mm; the only other 9mm I have any desire for is a Ruger P-89. And I have no need for a .40 or .45 GAP. But in .45 ACP, well, that's a horse of a different color. It'll be interesting to see when they actually hit the shelves.

Friday, December 16, 2005

70th Anniversary of the DC-3

Tomorrow is the 70th Anniversary of the first flight of the Douglas DC-3.

Seventy years ago, one of aviation's best-known and most-loved airplanes was born. On Dec. 17, 1935, the DC-3 made its first flight.

It was the plane that changed the way the world flew. The DC-3 made commercial air travel popular and airline profits possible. Its commercial and military service over seven decades has made it an aviation legend.

The importance of the DC-3 cannot be understated. As noted in the quote, it's the airplane that made airline service a viable business model. During World War II it was the main transport aircraft for the US and British Empire. The official US Army name was the C-47 Skytrain while the Brits called it the Dakota. The most common nickname, though, was Gooney Bird. It was used to ferry troops and supplies all over the world. It was used to tow assault gliders and to drop paratroops. It served on in US military use until the 60s, and hundreds of Gooney Birds, mostly C-47s made during The War, are still being flown today in commercial service. Can you imagine a 1940s-vintage truck being used to haul freight today? Talk about over-engineered!

I've been an aviation buff since I was a kid and one airplace I still want a ride in is a DC-3.

Computers suck

Computers suck.

I've spent most of the past two days speed testing a new cable modem/gateway on our lab network. Basically all I'm doing is transferring files from a laptop to and from an FTP server and recording the results. Since we use three kinds of CMTSes (Cisco, Arris, and Motorola), I need to test against each one using several tests:

  • DHCP client with SPI enabled.
  • DHCP client with SPI disabled.
  • Static IP with SPI enabled.
  • Static IP with SPI disabled.

Each of the permutations has to be run with the modems provisioned for 18 Mbps down/3 Mbps up, and 30 Mbps down/10 Mbps up (the latter to simulate an uncapped modem, since our provisioning system doesn't allow truly wide open configs).

What's been frustrating has been very inconsistent results. We're using my Apple G4 iBook, my test Dell D600 running XP, and my coworker's identical Dell. We're also using my D600 booted into SUSE 9.3.

My coworker's Dell allows me to get a much higher speed than my Dell running XP or my iBook. But if I boot my D600 in Linux my results are similar to his running XP.

We're also experiencing intermittent flakiness with the CLI FTP clients we've been using but only when connecting to the FTP server through the new gateway. Sometimes we're unable to get a directory listing. We've been using the standard XP CLI FTP client, ftp under Cygwin, ncftp under Cygwin, ftp on my iBook, and finally ftp under SUSE.

It's enough to make me want to grab a hammer.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thumbs up for Gigaparts

Today I received my third order from Gigaparts, the Comet GP-3 antenna and 100 feet of coax terminated with PL-259s on both ends. I ordered Monday, received a prompt email notification, recieved email confirmation Tuesday from UPS, and got the two packages today. Shipping was via regular UPS Ground, so that's damn quick. This pretty much mirros my two prior orders, so I can feel comfortable recommending them for ham radio supplies. (They also sell 'puters, but have never ordered from them before.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Comet GP-3

I went and ordered a Comet GP-3 2M/70cm antenna, along with a Cable X-Perts coaxial feed line from Gigaparts. The plan to to mount it on top of my house on a 10 foot mast, which I'll either attach to one of the plumbing vents protruding through the roof, or my chimney. I can pick up the mast and mounting hardware locally. It's being shipped UPS Ground so I don't expect it before the end of next week.

This should really improve the performance of my Yaesu FT-7800 at home.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow day, sorta

We received our first significant snowfall overnight, about 6" in Plymouth Meeting. (I'll pause while more northerly or western readers finish laughing.) Most area schools are closed today. OK, well, by 0730 I hadn't received a voicemail indicating the office was closed so I headed out to work. I decided that dealing with SEPTA wouldn't be any fun so I drove in.

As usual, in AWD the Expedition handled the snow and ice with aplomb. I'm not one of those ID10Ts who thinks that a 4x4 allows you to zip along over snow as if I was on dry pavement. I kept it slow and maintained good following distance and made it into town without any serious difficulty.

Naturally when I arrived I found a voicemail waiting for my from my boss who had decided to bail for the day and hoped that I did the same. {sigh} The office is pretty empty and I don't want to be driving when the wet roads freeze up, so I'm going to head out at noon, which will give me time to crank up the snowblower for the first time this winter and clear off my driveway and sidewalks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Need a base antenna

There's no way around it: For best Tx and Rx with my FT-7800R, I'll need to put an antenna on the roof, on at least a short mast. I've gone through numerous reviews at and the Comet GP-3 dual band is looking good.

I figure that I can clamp the Comet to a piece of EMT conduit used as a mast, then in turn attach the conduit to one of the plumbing vent pipes sticking up through my roof. The coaxial feed to the antenna will then go down the side of my house cable-tied to a downspout, and through a hole into my office. The coax run will probably be about 40 - 50 feet.

I would be interested in hearing from any readers having experience with the GP-3, or who can suggest another alternative 2M/70cm base antenna that sells for $100 or less. Insights into lightning protection are also welcome.

Pearl Harbor Day

Never forget.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Rimfire scopes

Over on THR someone asked about "A1 Optics" rifle scopes for mounting on a Ruger 10/22. I've never heard of this brand so replied with the following information:

I never heard of A1 Optics so can't opine on them.

Weaver makes a 4x28mm rimfire scope and Nikon a 4x32mm rimfire scope that can be had online for about $110. I have one of each, the Weaver is on a Savage Mark IIGL and the Nikon is on a 10/22. I actually got the Nikon as a factory refurbished unit from Natchez Shooters Supply for $70. I highly recommend either of these over cheaper .22 scopes.

Both have excellent optics but the Nikon gathers a bit more light with the larger objective lens. As rimfire scopes, they have the parallax adjusted for 50 or 75 yards, instead of 100 yards as you'll find with a scope intended for use on a centerfire.

Cheap scopes aren't worth your time. They have poor optics and don't hold up well over time. E.g., my Marlin Camp .45 ate a BSA red dot (that I got for free). You don't have to spend a ton of money for a decent scope, but don't go cheap, either.

Monday, December 05, 2005

VMWare Player

I'm posting this from Ubuntu Linux running inside the beta VMWare Player. The Player is more-or-less a stripped-down version of VMWare Workstation that allows you to run virtual machines created on the full version of VMWare. The Player is free, like Microsoft's Word or PowerPoint Viewers.

Along with the VMWare Player, I downloaded the Browser Appliance virtual machine, which is a preconfigured install of Ubuntu that boots you into a Gnome desktop running Firefox. It's pretty slick, IMO.

This is my first time playing with Ubuntu but so far my impression is favorable. I didn't need to futz around with anything to get the fonts looking good and networking just worked. Here's what it looks like:

I have this all running on my test laptop at work, a Dell Latitute D600 with a 1GB of RAM and a 1.8 GHz Pentium M CPU. It seems to be running well.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Well this sucks

I got onto the MARC Sunday net, but just barely. Even at 10W output the other members had a hard time hearing me. I could hear them clear as day, and before the MARC net, I was able to pick up another net off a repeater in Perkasie, which is even further away. So I don't think anything is wrong with my antenna setup.


More mail server stuff

The Book of Postfix arrived Thursday and I started reading it on the train Friday. So far, so good. It's well-written and easy to understand. Going by the table of contents, it appears to gather into one place most of what I need for putting together a single domain mail server with antivirus and antispam filtering. The proof will be in the pudding, of course.

My test environment is going to be CentOS 4.2 in a VMWare virtual machine. I decided to try out CentOS because as an unencumbered version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, there should be no shortage of documentation on how to get things done. While I haven't run Red Hat myself in quite awhile, it is the most prevalent Linux distro in the US.

So far all I've done is the install, setting the hostname, and changing the default MTA from sendmail to Postfix. I'll get around to configuring Postfix, dovecot (IMAP and POP), ClamAV, and Spamassassin later this week.

December already?

It's hard to believe it's December already.

Yesterday we had a birthday party for Alexandra -- she turns three on Tuesday. The party was nice and today both she and Amanda ran around half the day wearing some princess costumes she got. My little girls are playing dress up already. Oy.

Friday night I tried getting on the MARC 'net with my new FT-7800R but they had problems hearing me. It looks like I had the radio misprogrammed to talk to the repeaters, and I was transmitting on the output freq. I'm still learning both the radio and the programming software. I reprogrammed the radio tonight and hopefully I'll have better luck.

I did figure out a new, hopefully decent, antenna setup. Since my office is located on one of the front corners of the house next to the driveway, I cracked the window and placed my magnet-mount mobile antenna on the roof of Judith's car, then ran the coax inside. This gets the antenna away from nearby objects which can detune it, and gives it a proper RF ground. We'll see in a little while how it works.