Thursday, October 19, 2017

Firearms license, at last!

Those who know me well know that I'm a big firearms enthusiast. I enjoyed everything that goes BANG! ever since I lit my first firecracker as a kid. Even before that, I was fascinated with fire and played with it every chance I got, always carrying a box of matches in my pocket. I haven't set anything important on fire, but I came close a few times and learned a lot about safety in the process.

The first firearm I ever shot was a Zastava M48, Yugoslav version of the famous Mauser Gewehr 98k - the main German WW2 rifle.

I was 15 years old. M48 is a bolt action rifle that fires a full size military cartridge (7,9mm Mauser). It has no recoil-absorbing or compensating features, which means the same force that propels the 13 gram bullet out of the barrel at 800m/s is applied to your shoulder via that steel butt-plate. In other words, it kicks like a mule (the ballistics and recoil are comparable to 30-06 Springfield, for those more familiar with North American ammunition).

Even though I was a total "gun virgin", I already knew how to handle and aim a weapon, thanks mostly to a lot of dry-firing practice at school. Sensing my enthusiasm for firearms, the teacher of the "Defense and Protection" class (famous "Yeti", a legend worthy of his own blog post) would let me "guard the rifle" during recesses, the time I gladly used to repeatedly load/cycle/aim/fire/reload a handful of training ammunition. When the time came to fire some live rounds at the range, all of the five shots hit the target the size of a watermelon at 100m. Not bad for the first time. My shoulder was neither sore nor blue and I didn't end up with a bloody arcade like some other kids that were afraid the gun will kill them with its butt.

A few years later I was serving my tour of duty in the Yugoslav Army, just like all able bodied eighteen year old boys back then. It wasn't all fun and games on the remote Adriatic island of Vis, but I got to shoot pretty much all weapons Eastern block had to offer at the time. From WW2 MG42, to AK47, to grenade launchers, to handguns, to hand grenades - I even used good old dynamite to blow up a few things. Many other soldiers were trying to avoid having to clean their weapons and would offer me to shoot their ammo. There was no way I'd refuse a live round and the cleaning procedure is the same for one bullet as for a hundred, so the choice was easy :). Plus, I got to shoot at their targets too :).

Yes, this one as well :). Allies called it "Hitler's Buzz Saw" for it's 1,200 round per minute rate of fire. It made the individual shots blend together into a signature sound akin to ripping heavy canvas. The one I fired was an immaculately refurbished WW2 specimen, with original swastika Waffenamt markings. By the time I was done with it, the barrel was so hot it was glowing bright red in broad daylight :)).

My own service weapon was a PAP M59/66. That's the Yugoslav version of Russian SKS with a NATO spec grenade launcher:

Light, reliable, easy to shoot, simple to maintain. Fun too, especially with anti tank grenades :). It was extremely loud and recoiled like nothing I've ever seen when launching those heavy buggers.

Forward to 1985, I got my hands on my first serious book about weapons. It was called "All pistols and revolvers of the world", by the Russian author Alexander Borisovich Zuk. The title is not an exaggeration or a false claim - the book meticulously catalogues and illustrates every single handgun model produced prior to 1980, even the one-off prototypes. It also shows inner workings and explains different types of firearm actions, something I found extremely interesting. I slept with that book for months, read it several times cover to cover and returned to its more interesting sections over and over again. For many years after, I could quickly recognize almost any handgun i saw in the movies. In most cases down to the manufacturer, model, version and caliber.   

Those who know me well also know that I'm a non-violent person and a law-abiding citizen. I never had a firearms license and never owned a firearm. I have no interest in ever shooting at a living being, not even for hunting purposes (unless I'm starving, that is). The original purpose and potential effects of firearms are not lost to me and I can't deny certain self defense and human rights aspects either. However, my interest is primarily from a purely technical perspective (think "terminal ballistics" instead of a "wound channel"). It's hard to put in words, but I'm fascinated with the inner workings and the technology that blends many sciences and skills to make a gun that works (believe me, there are many that just don't). The amount of genius that was invested (many would say wasted) in firearms is just amazing, and there's arguably a lot of transferable knowledge that can be gained by studying them. Besides, didn't I say explosions and hitting hard at stuff tens or hundreds of meters away is fun? 

When trying to relate my passion to firearms layman I'm facing the same challenge as when I talk about motorcycling, but amplified by an order of magnitude. It's almost impossible to explain a feeling to those who never experienced the activity the feeling is associated with and got their information about it from movies, news and reality shows. It should be self evident that not every motorcycle rider is a member of a motorcycle gang and not every firearm owner is a mass murderer, but it's not to many people. Firearm owners come from all walks of life and use their firearms for purposes that are just as diverse.

A side note: I use term "firearms" instead of "guns" not just because it's more accurate, but also because it's harder to abuse by those more interested in sensations and emotions than facts. I also say "motorcyclist" instead of "biker" for pretty much the same reasons.

I applied for a firearms license once a long time ago, but was declined. Back then (and there) those that had connections could easily get a license, but I wasn't one of them. Licensing was at the discretion of local police with no clear rules on who can have a license and under what circumstances. I wasn't interested in getting a firearm illegally, even though it was quite easy. So I gave up, got sidetracked with other things in life and never applied again. However, my interest in firearms never diminished and I kept educating myself from all available sources.

Those who know me well also know that I didn't grow up in an environment that had any potential to induce or encourage interest in firearms. Everyone in my family and social circles was either indifferent or outright scared of weapons of any kind. As I grew up, I started wondering where that deep and enduring interest came from. Certainly not from my father, my mother or any other person that had influence in my upbringing.

There was just no logical explanation whatsoever until I found out about my maternal great grandfather. Jozef Felba was a master gunsmith from Ceska Zbrojovka (today known simply as "CZ" -, the famous arms factory in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He moved to Serbia in mid nineteenth century to help establish the arms factory in Kragujevac that eventually grew into today's Zastava Arms ( Well, that settled the question of nature vs. nurture in this case. If grandpa Felba's genes aren't to blame, I don't know what is.

It would surely benefit humanity if all that genius was directed to developing tools not primarily designed for killing. Who knows what great inventions would Hiram Maxim come up with if Edison didn't bribe him to quit electrical engineering and move to Europe? There, he invented the first effective machine gun. The one that ruled the battlefields of WW1 from all sides and was the only sustained fire weapon until mid twentieth century.

The British variant above, Vickers Maxim, is typically regarded as the best of all Maxims produced. The last three were finally retired in mid fifties, but not before they were fired non-stop for seven days, expelling five million rounds of ammunition without malfunction. Talk about going out with a bang!

I'm glad Edison didn't/couldn't bribe Tesla...

Another big jump in space/time leads us to 21st century day Canada. A couple of years ago I briefly entertained the idea of getting a firearms license (its official name is "Possession and Acquisition License") but gave up after realizing I have to take a mandatory course and jump through some other hoops. Mostly, I dropped it because I wasn't sure my darling wife would support me and without her consent it would be hard if not impossible to get licensed. It turned out I misjudged Duda's view, and after consulting with some firearm owners and with support of a couple of close friends (my deep and sincere thanks to Monica and Aleksandra) I took the course and got my license.The procedure to get a firearms license in Canada consists of several steps, costs about $500 and takes approximately four months, but there are no real obstacles for a law abiding citizen.

Finally, after all these decades, I am one of more than two million licensed firearm owners in Canada. I took two firearms safety courses, passed two written and two practical tests, provided two references and was checked by RCMP.

I am now subject to daily RCMP criminal background checks (yes, every single day). I was also told that police no longer need a warrant to search my home, so I gave up some of my rights. Combine that with being a NEXUS holder and I'm probably among the most vetted people in this country - a proven model citizen. Consequently, nothing I do that with firearms is or will be remotely illegal. Even if I was inclined to break the law, I don't want to risk loosing my license and the privilege of engaging in my lifelong passion. I do my research, check applicable laws and consult government agencies whenever I'm not sure what I'm about to do is perfectly legal. I have a lot of fun with guns, but I also take them very seriously and obey the law.

Phew, that was a long one, but I just had to put all this in print. Please feel free to comment and ask questions, I'll do my best to answer everyone.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The investment banker and the fisherman fable

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna.

The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked, “How long does it take to catch them?”

The Mexican replied: “Only a little while”.

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions.. Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Headlight bulb change procedure

One of the headlights on our scooter burned out today. No big deal, you think, how hard can it be to replace an H4 light bulb? Not as easy as it seems. The headlight housing is not very accessible on the scooter since it's surrounded by a lot of tupperware, so I decided to consult the Yamaha Service Manual just to make sure I don't break something or do any more work than necessary. Well, it says "remove the front cowling" first! Now that's a huge PITA - I'd rather do the adjustment of all 16 valves on my Bandit than mess with those ill-fitting plastics that somehow always end up assembled in the wrong order, with extra screws and possible broken tabs. I knew chances to avoid all that work are slim (after all, it's the factory manual) but I had to take my chance. Long story short, with manual skills that would make a gynecologist proud (I'm not one, but I can take a look :)) I managed to wiggle the plug, rubber cover, wire clip and the bulb out. It was tight as a (insert your favorite association here), but it got out and the new bulb went back in without much trouble.

Yamaha says you have to remove all the plastics surrounding that headlight, from both sides. That's at least four panels held by a dozen screws and as many tight-fitting tabs.

The alternative is to try to reach the headlight from the inside and below, navigating through the tight space above the front wheel and very deep into the fairing. The green, yellow and black wire seen up there lead to the bulb connector. Above it is the bulb, surrounded by the black rubber dust cover and secured in place with a wire spring. All of that has to come out and back in through the space barely wide enough to stick a couple of fingers in...

The moral of the story is that service manuals and other official maintenance documents should not be taken as gospel (not that I take The Gospel as gospel either :)). Although they contain valuable and necessary information, they are sometimes influenced by lawyers instead of mechanics. As another example, both Suzuki and Haynes manuals for the Bandit say that you have to remove the tank in order to remove the valve cover. Did it several times with the tank on and it wasn't in the way at all. I guess they are afraid of someone suing them when they scrape a finger on a part that could have been removed prior to servicing.

The island.

Island on a lake.
On an island.
On a lake.

Treasure Island on Lake Mindemoya on Manitulin Island on Lake Huron.

BTW, Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. It's 350Km North of Toronto, plus a two hour ride on MS Chi-Cheemaun (The Big Canoe) - the largest ferry on the Great Lakes.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Vaccines, who needs them?

I recently had to spend time and discuss both serious and not so serious themes with a seemingly well educated and rational man who traveled the world quite a bit. I fully expected that we won't agree on a lot of things, but was looking forward to a healthy exchange of viewpoints. However, it was obvious that's not going to happen as soon as I realized that this person doesn't believe man landed on the moon, believes that vaccines cause Autism and thinks Donald Trump is going to "drain the swamp".

Conspiracy theorists, armchair philosophers and paranoids are a dime a dozen, but this fellow didn't quite fit the bill of your average crackpot. He seemed like a man who knows how to follow logic and rules of rational thinking, yet when it comes to those themes (and I'm sure many more) his thinking was so twisted and full of logical fallacies that it made me wonder how he managed to survive to his middle age. I read somewhere that a typical believer/practitioner of "alternative medicine" is a well educated, middle aged, upper middle class, professional woman. Go figure.

Survive or not, you say, what's it to you? Well, many people don't realize that there is serious direct as well as collateral damage from this kind of non-thinking, and it's both immediate and long term. It doesn't restrict itself to non-thinkers, but it devastates their children, families and society as a whole. John Oliver explained it on the example of "vaccine deniers" much better and more entertaining than I ever could:

It all boils down to child abuse and public health endangerment. Do what all rational people do or go live on a deserted island (leave your kids behind, you are not worthy of them anyway).

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A good traveler

Just listening to the angelic voice of Loreena McKennitt while watching her "Nights from the Alhambra" concert. It's a great experience in its own right and I recommend it wholeheartedly, but that's not what prompted me to write this entry. During the concert, she mentions this saying by Lao Tzu that describes the way I like to travel very well: A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. I don't know if I'm that good a traveler, but I always considered unpredictability an essential part of every journey and the destination just a prime mover to make me point the wheel in certain direction and stat rolling. As long as I'm having fun and gathering new experiences it doesn't really matter if I'll reach the destination. The trip is the destination.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pennsylvania Wilds and why I love going there

Pennsylvania Wilds (map) is a two million acre area in the northern part of the state. Here are the main reasons I like going there so much: - Distance. It's closer to Toronto than Algonquin Park, by a good 100Km. - Getting there is easy and fast. You can reach the fun zone in less than three hours of riding/driving from Toronto and you can pretty much forget any traffic congestion as soon as you cross the border. - Traffic. There's very little of it on any day and in any season. You'll see more vehicles on the roads in Muskoka on a Wednesday morning in November than on a summer long weekend in Spoul State Forest. Crawling behind a truck towing a 20m boat is for those that go to Ontario cottage country every weekend. - Roads. It's practically impossible to find a boring piece of asphalt or gravel anywhere in this area, and believe me - I have tried. You can't make a wrong turn if you enjoy a good road for the roads' sake. - Nature and scenery. Lush forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, farmland, small towns, national forests, game lands, recreational areas, state parks (dozens of them: Ever changing and ever pleasant vistas with magnificent overlooks. Hundreds of places to stop and smell the proverbial roses without having to share them with flocks of minivan tourists. - People. Friendly and easy to communicate with. I can't say I made friends for life, but all my interactions with the locals were quite pleasant and unpretentious. - Food. It's pretty easy to find decent to very good food and servings are generous to huge. It's quite hard to find a meal that will set you back more than $15, beer included. - Accommodations. You won't find any big hotel/motel chains in the area and quality varies greatly, from $30/night dusty and claustrophobic old hotels (bring your own sleeping bag just in case) to $75/night in a refurbished old mansion B&B. There are hundreds of camps around, from KOA to completely amenity-free camping spots in the forest. - Laws and law enforcement. Pennsylvania is a helmet optional state. Speed limits in populated areas are reasonable (35 or 40mph) and traffic enforcement outside of the few small towns and more frequently traveled roads is practically nonexistent. I guess local and state cops have better things to do than set up speed traps on roads that see a few vehicles an hour on a busy day. If, by chance, one gets a speeding ticket, at least that ticket won't show up on his Ontario driving record (I don't mind paying that form of random taxation as much as I detest being raped by Ontario insurance companies because of it). What don't I like about Pennsylvania Wilds? Not a lot, really. I could do without sniffing gas every few kilometers (oil and gas wells are all over the place although not often visible from the road). There are a few oil refineries that are an eyesore, but I guess people there have to live from something other than hunting and fishing. I would also like to see a more diverse population - I don't think I ever saw any person of color there. Also, God and American flags are everywhere, just spoiling the scenery IMO.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

From the "critical and rational thinking " department:

Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we know what works and what doesn't.