Tuesday, December 21, 2010

GBC Secret Santa 2010

You may or may not know that we had a Secret Santa gift exchange over at the Gunblogger Conspiracy. We all signed up and got our Secret Santas assigned by pdb, who organized the entire thing.

My Secret Santa's gift arrived today, just in time for the mass (dis)organized opening in IRC. My Secret Santa was ArcticElf, who sent me an Orlite AR magazine especially to induce misfeeds for failure drill purposes, and included 6 .223 snap caps as well. In addition to the magazine, ArcticElf included a MagPul B.A.D. Lever for my AR. This is an extension for the bolt catch release, designed to allow operation using the right hand. Also included was a personal note explaining the magazine and its purpose, with a warning *not* to use it for serious purposes. Behold:

The text reads:


The enclosed AR-16 magazine is quite possibly one of the worst ever produced. On any given day it can be relied upon to cause almost any imaginable malfunction, as a result it makes an excellent training aid for the AR platform and provides plenty of practice clearing various jams and malfunctions. Adding dummy rounds will only make this worse.

Please do not use this magazine for anything serious, I cannot stress its unreliability enough.

Good luck and happy training.

Merry Christmas,


Thanks to both pdb for organizing the exchange and ArcticElf for the gift. I look forward to doing this again next year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Awesome New Photo Tool - Hugin

I was trying to find a solution for a coworker today, getting a wide area of the office into a single photo. This was a daunting task, as the area needed to be covered was around 100 feet wide and only about 40 feet deep. I figured I could perhaps stitch several photos together and make a panorama. As you may know, I do not use Windows or Photoshop. I kicked the Microsoft habit back in 2oo1, and haven't looked back since. I use Linux exclusively as the platform for all of my computing needs, though I will occasionally utilize my wife's OS X desktop for the sake of convenience (it is the only desktop system in the house at present time).

I'd researched photo stitching software a few years back, and only found complex and inadequate guides to sortof putting photos together with The GIMP. I use The GIMP as my primary post-processing and editing program, and am quite happy with its performance. For the uninitiated, it is full-featured photoshop workalike with active development. It is open-source and it is free. Check the link above for more info.

However, this post is not about The GIMP. I took my photos and set about finding a way to stitch them together for my coworker. A short Google search brought me to Hugin. I run Debian Linux, and Hugin is included in the standard repositories. I installed the application with its requisite dependencies and suggested optional related packages. The entire install footprint ended up at a mere 60MB. I ran through the steps presented to me by the program, and waited a few minutes for it to process the images (five 12 megapixel images from my Nikon D90). The results were astounding. This application is so well-developed that I had an incredibly impressive image in TIF format in a matter of 5 minutes, and there was nothing manual about the process.

I got to my usual coffee shop this evening, and thought I'd play a bit with some 30 second time exposures of the outdoor porch area. I wanted to see how Hugin handled this, given the differences in exposure and color temperature in such an environment, as well as knowing that the darker shots were underexposed due to the limitations I imposed on the camera when capturing the images.

Here are the images I started with, scaled down to 1024 pixels wide (if you click on them) for your viewing pleasure:

I simply dumped these photos into Hugin for processing, and out comes this, after about 3 minutes on my single-core not-current-technology laptop:

The photo (if you click it) has been scaled to 2048 pixels wide and converted to png format, but otherwise no post-processing has been done. The resulting TIF image was 5989x2037 pixels.

This is one impressive piece of software. There are many options that I haven't taken a look at yet, but this is what it produces out of the box, choosing the "photometrics" (which I believe evens out the exposure) and "difference" blend mode. Kudos go out to all of the developers of this software. This has got to be one hell of a project to get such a complex piece of software working so elegantly.

Check out the project page at:


This is cross-platform software, and there are releases available for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and FreeBSD. If you find this software as incredibly useful as I do, consider making a contribution to the project. There is a small link at the bottom of the home page for PayPal donation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Brief Range Report - Winchester Q3131A1

A couple of months ago, I bought some Winchester 5.56 ammo at Cabela's to try out in the new rifle. It was on sale for $9.99, so I figured I'd pick up several boxes. I'd kept it in the range bag the first session I took the rifle out.

I decided to see how it performed the next session (in late November), and was pleasantly surprised at the vast improvement in my group sizes from the AE223. I'd shot a couple of targets using the AE223 at the beginning of the session, and was less than impressed at the grouping I got. Shots were all over the target. I certainly could attribute some of this to my ongoing issues with shooting iron sights against black targets, but they still didn't seem to reflect the consistency of my sighting. It was so bad, I didn't bother keeping or taking photos of the targets.

I loaded up some of the Winchester rounds and put 10 rounds through one of the targets that I was shooting with the AE223, and saw an immediate improvement. I loaded up a full mag of 30 and put 3 shots through that same target, then decided to move on to a fresh target, pictured below.

Excluding the two fliers at 1:00 and 9:00, that is a 1.5" wide and 2" tall grouping. This ammo seems to shoot *very* well in my rifle, certainly better than my ability to keep the rifle steady on target. On that subject, I just purchased a sling for the rifle, which should vastly improve my ability to steady my shots and improve my consistency. Just trying out the sling at home, I can tell a significant improvement in my ability to keep the rifle steady. I look forward to using it at the range this weekend.

I've also been able to work out both the plinking and hunting rounds mentioned in my last post. I've loaded up 200 of the plinking rounds using Winchester 55 grain FMJ-BT bullets, so I can see how well they run in numbers. I've got 50 rounds of the hunting load using the Speer 70 grain semi-spitzer soft point, to get a good feel for the load and its characteristics at different ranges. It looks like I won't get a hog hunt in this year, but an early 2011 hunt is possible. Hopefully, I'll get to put this load to some practical use in the near future.

Hopefully, I'll have something new to write up for you after the weekend.