Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Pennsylvania Flintlock Rifle

Last Saturday I was at Dixon's Muzzleloading Shop, in Kempton, PA when a Pennsylvania flintlock longrifle caught my eye. It started out as a left handed Dixie Tennessee Mountain Rifle.

According to Greg Dixon, the original owner wanted something different, so he took the rifle to G.L. Dech, a 'smith who lived a bit North of Allentown. Dech retained the original barrel, lock, trigger, and ramrod. He then turned the barrel to a half-octagon, half-round profile. He may have coned the muzzle as well. The metal was then mounted into a new stock made of what appears to be curly maple.

Whereas the original cherry stock the rifle came with as shipped from Dixie reflected Southern mountain styling, the new stock is definitely Pennsylvania-style. Based on looking through Kaufman's The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle and Kindig's Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age, I'd say it looks like a gun from either Lancaster or York County. This is my favorite type of longrifle, along with rifles from Maryland and Virginia.

The barrel remains at the original length of 41", but because of the metal removed when turning it down, the rifle balances much better than the stock TMRs (I had one so I know).

It's a .50 caliber. Based on the TMR I had about 15 years ago, it should shoot well with a .490 ball, pillow ticking patch, and 70 to 80 grains of 2Fg Goex.

I put a post up over on TRP with pictures, here. Or, you can view it without any more commentary in my Photobucket album.

Since taking the pictures, I've cleaned up the brass furniture a bit, and hand rubbed a coat of tung oil on the stock. The stock looked good before but the extra coat helped bring out the grain some more.

IO Gear GUH227 USB 2.0 Hub

Since I setup my home office desk to use Rohan, my MacBook Pro, everytime I settled in to do some work I was surrounded by a morass of cables. My webcam (since I run Rohan closed at home I bought a USB webcam), keyboard, Canon MP160 printer/scanner, and mouse all use USB connections. In addition, an Ethernet cable and a DVI video cable are connected.

I had the webcam connected directly to Rohan. The printer and mouse were connected to USB ports on the keyboard, while the keyboard was connected to Rohan's second USB port. This was getting out of hand, and required me to unplug something in the event I wanted to connect another device, e.g., a flash drive or camera.

Since Apple doesn't sell docking stations or port replicators for their laptops, I figured the easiest and cheapest way to get the spaghetti under control was to get a USB hub.

After going through reviews on NewEgg, I ordered an IO Gear GUH227 USB 2.0 hub. One key feature that I was looking for was that the hub support external power, since I'd be connecting my webcam to it. The IO Gear unit met that requirement, providing seven powered USB ports for devices. Five ports are on the back of the unit with two on the front. It comes with a small rubber stand for upright use, but it's not very stable. Instead, I have it resting on the four rubber feet it has on its bottom.

I currently have it setup so that the keyboard, Canon printer, cable for my digital camera, and webcam are connected to the hub. My mouse remains connected to the keyboard. Now, I have one free USB port on Rohan and another on the keyboard, along with three free ports on the hub. It's also easier now to setup or takedown Rohan when I use it at my desk.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Skype Call Quality Issues

Up until last Friday night Skype gave me excellent audio quality. All of a sudden during the middle of a call from my brother in-law in Okinawa, Japan, quality went down the tubes. To help troubleshooting, I went into Skype's preferences and turned on "Display technical call info," which shows that I am experiencing about 50% packet loss during my Skype calls. I am not experiencing packet loss for any other application.

I am running Skype on Mac OS 10.5.2 on my MacBook Pro. I have tried downgrading from the latest version of Skype to v2.5.x and v2.6.x, doing clean installs. I am on wired 100 meg Ethernet connections. I've tried this from home on my cable modem and from the office, on a separate cable modem. ISPs at both sites is Comcast.

It may be an Intel Mac or a Leopard problem. After I started experiencing packet loss on my call, my wife was able to carry on a call with her brother just fine. She's running a G4 iBook on OS 10.4.11, and was connected to our home network via wifi.

I logged a help request with Skype, since I'm a paying customer, and got a canned reply suggesting that I check my firewall settings, that I'm running the latest updates to all my software, etc. Having verified everything Skype support suggested I informed them that nothing worked to improve my call quality.

I also put a post up on in the Communication section. If any of you reading this are experiencing poor call quality on Skype, please log a support request and put something up on the forum. The more people that report it, the more likely it'll get resolved in a timely manner.

OpenSUSE 10.3 is a GO

After downloading the ISO for the OpenSUSE 10.3 DVD, I got installed on my lab laptop. The install not only went smoothly, but it restored my ability to dual boot the box with Windows XP Pro. The failed Ubuntu installations had deleted Grub's config files, so I was not able to boot into XP. OpenSUSE's installer detected the Windows partition and automatically setup Grub so that I can choose XP as an option when booting. Nice!

So far, everything seems to be working OK except for wifi, which I still need to do some tweaking on. It may require a different driver from what SUSE detected (it seems to think I'm running a Latitude D400, while it's really a D600). For the interim, I'm online via Ethernet connected to an SMC8014 cable modem/router.

My low end ATI video card isn't in XGL's database, but I was able to enable 3D acceleration and desktop effects anyway. XGL's spinning cube, wherein each virtual desktop is on one side of a cube, is simply awesome! As a Mac user I'm used to impressive eye candy but XGL is at least on par with OS 10.5, in my opinion.

Aside from that, OpenSUSE comes with a good selection of applications, ranging from Firefox, Pidgin, OpenOffice, and a nice assortment of games. I installed it as a Gnome-based system but will probably add KDE soon.

The one app I've downloaded and installed from a third party source so far was Skype. I first tried installation using SUSE's GUI tool but that unceremoniously quit with no informative error message. I dropped to a terminal and did it manually using RPM. That revealed some missing dependencies which I then installed from the DVD. I was then able to install Skype. This needs some work. The GUI installer needs to give you feedback on installs which fail for lack of certain dependencies. For OpenSUSE to be a user-friendly system it shouldn't just die on you with no troubleshooting info.

That bobble aside, I'm looking forward to playing with OpenSUSE.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ubuntu Weirdness

A week or so ago I wiped the drive on the test PC I have at my desk and installed Ubuntu 8.04. The install went very smoothly and I haven't run into any issues. Today, I decided to replace the CentOS 5 partition on my lap laptop, a Dell Latitude D600, with Ubuntu.

About 2/3 of the way through the installation, the installer choked with an error indicating that there might be a problem with the CD. So, I rebooted, ejected the CD, used some compressed air to clean the disc and the DVD-ROM drive's laser. I then ran the CD verification app that's an option when you boot the Ubuntu disk. No problems found, so I proceeded with the install.

The same error popped up in about the same place the second time around.

Since the CD is OK I think it may be an Ubuntu issue. So, I'm now downloaded OpenSUSE 10.3 and will give that a try later.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Misleading PA Gun Transfer Website

This morning, I caught a commercial on WMMR promoting an apparently-new website, I thought to myself, "Cool, someone is running an ad for FFL transfer services on 'MMR!" Such services are often used by gunnies purchasing firearms from out-of-state, since such transfers must go through a licensee per Federal law. When I checked it after getting into the office I was disgusted to find that it's a site to promote transfer of guns through licensed dealers, as opposed to private party sales. The whois data shows the registrant for the domain as Commonwealth Media Services, which is a state entity.

What I find troubling about it is that it promotes transfers through FFLs, and makes it seem that any face-to-face private sale is illegal in PA. That is not the case. Private transfers of rifles and shotguns between PA residents is perfectly legal, only handgun sales, NFA transfers, and transactions with out of state residents must go through an FFL. The only reference to private rifle/shotgun sales being actually legal is buried on the Q&A page.

What makes this misleading is that in Pennsylvania, only "firearms" must be transferred through an FFL, per 18 Pa. Con. Stat. Sec. 6111. In PA, the definition of a firearm is this:

Any pistol or revolver with a barrel length less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches. The barrel length of a firearm shall be determined by measuring from the muzzle of the barrel to the face of the closed action, bolt or cylinder, whichever is applicable.

See 18 Pa. Consolidated Statutes Sec. 6102.

The statutory definition of firearms specifically does not include most guns which do not fall under the restrictions of the Federal National Firearms Act of 1934. In other words, the vast majority of rifles and shotguns in private possession are not "firearms" for the purpose of this law. For example, the hypothetical hunting rifle and shotgun described on's Home page generally do not meet the legal definition of a "firearm" in Pennsylvania.

So why the dissimulation? clearly reflects the Philly-centric antigun bias. By fooling people into thinking that private party transfers of any gun are illegal in PA, they are looking to create a paper trail. All gun transfers which go through a licensed dealer first require the transferee to pass a background check conducted in Harrisburg by the Pennsylvania State Police. As you may be aware, a few years ago they were sued for creating an illegal registry of gun owners. As it turned out, the State Police won their case when the court ruled that the records which they were compiling did not meet the statutory definition of an illegal database. Nevertheless, it is still a de facto database of gun owners in Pennsylvania. And we know that historically, gun registration has lead to confiscation in Germany, Britain, and closer to home in New York and New Jersey.

This stinks on ice and they need to be called on it. I plan to voice my displeasure with our "leaders" and hope you will, too.

Sony Vaios Suck

Holy hell do Sony PCs suck. Or maybe Microsoft sucks. (OK, Microsoft DOES suck.)

I have been working on a new Windows image for the Sony Vaio Media Center PCs in our lab. They were purchased several years ago, used to test many different programs, and as you'd imagine, Windows bit rot has set in. So, we wanted to reformat the drives and rebuild them from bare metal.

Unfortunately, while we have the Windows XP Media Center 2005 discs, we don't have any driver discs for the hardware. Normally, this wouldn't be too much of a problem but for some reason, after reinstalling XPMC, the Intel NIC driver installer won't see the onboard Pro 1000 MT Gig-E NIC.

I even downloaded DriverMax and used it to backup the existing drivers on an identical Vaio but when I restored them to the NICless box, the Ethernet card still wouldn't work.

I tried a couple different versions of Intel's driver software to no avail. To try and narrow down the problem to hardware or software, I wiped the hard disk again and installed XP Pro. Now I was able to get the NIC running. WTF?

At this time I've got all the hardware installed except for sound, which like the NIC, XP won't recognize. Tomorrow I'll boot up one of the Vaios which I haven't touched yet to ID the sound card, then see if I can download a driver from the Internet.

Once I do finally get a good image with all the Vaio's hardware working as it should, I will do a backup with Ghost, so that future rebuilds will take minutes, rather than days.

I may initially save the Ghost image to DVD, but soon I should have network storage in our lab. We have two Apple XRAID storage arrays with 11 terabytes each. Currently, they are idle, since we don't have a spare server with a Fibre Channel card to drive them. I'm hoping that will change in the near future, as yesterday I spec'ed out a shiny new Apple Xserve. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on that.