Wednesday, September 21, 2016

As Charlotte burns

We almost made it through the summer without the predicted "long, hot summer of discontent" coming to pass. Almost.  The last couple of weeks...well, just dammit.  Now it's come home to roost in North Carolina.

I'm listening to the Charlotte/Mecklenburg PD feed on my smartphone scanner app.  Yes, using 21st Century technology to listen in on one of the oldest entertainments of the human race--rioting and looting.  This time a member of a local constabulary (who just happened to be black) shot a black man, possibly for the wrong reason, and predictably, the masses have decided to protest by breaking windows and at last count, looting a drug store, the Epicenter entertainment complex and the Carolina Panthers Stadium (heard it on the scanner, bet that one doesn't get any media play).  Reports of  "man with a gun" have gotten so prolific that it's not worth the effort to keep up with them, as have the reports of "shots fired".  Tear gas has been used.  Medic, the Charlotte/Mecklenburg EMT service, is running the wheels off its units.

I would not want to be in Charlotte tonight.  I am thankful that Daughter graduated from her university there several years ago and is safely ensconced one room over from where I write this.  I am grateful for the comforting weight of the pistol on my hip, even though I'm 70 miles away.  No, it isn't a magic talisman, but it sure is a comfort item right now.

The Perversity Factor of the universe is high tonight.  We just heard several loud explosions from the direction of the local high school.  That is also the direction of one of the local electrical substations, and it's awfully dark up that way.  I'm torn between a quick recon and hunkering down right where I am.  Hunkering down feels smarter.  I'll go with that.

I believe I need to reprogram a scanner tomorrow with some local utility frequencies, though.

Now the call has come in over the scanner--the arson is starting.  Small scale stuff, fires in trash cans.  That won't last long.  It's after 10 PM and the witching hour fast approaches.  The Carolina Bobcats arena has apparently been hit and now some roads are being blocked.  The police still sound calm and collected--not a sing of panic in anyone's voice, which bodes well.  I suspect there are very few CMPD officers not on duty tonight.  I hope that they can stay safe as they try to keep some semblance of the peace.

City transit has now been shut down, incoming and outgoing.  More fires, this time outside a large hotel--the one we stayed in for Daughter's graduation.  For tragi-comic relief, a call about two black females selling marijuana and Ecstasy pills in the riot zone.

We live in Heinlein's Crazy Years, the years of the Fourth Turning.  Others opine that we are at the point where the "War Cycle", one I'm not familiar with, is due to heat up soon.  They say it will start in North Korea, but tonight if feels like it's North Carolina.

Now officers are meeting a hail of thrown rocks, and a garbled report of a unit "stuck" somewhere.  A wreck with entrapment.  Walmart is closing and workers request rides/escorts home.  I'm encouraged to hear some calls being cleared.

It occurs to me to check the traffic cameras--Charlotte is lousy with the things.  The Interstates--85, 77, 485--are unbelievably empty, just a few cars where there should still be hundreds at this hour.  It seems that people are sticking close to home.  I wonder if travelers have gotten the word that Charlotte is a mini-war zone and have detoured or simply stopped and are waiting for daylight to make a run for it?

Trying to check other local places, the Charlotte Douglas Airport web server is down.  Interesting.  None of the local colleges or universities have anything on their web sites.  Their Twitter feeds have some things, mostly from various individuals venting.

It's now 11 PM and it doesn't seem to be slowing down as far as the volume of calls, but the seriousness of the calls seems to be easing up.  This is the first good sign so far.  Another good sign is that the individual reported dead is now being reported still alive, but in critical condition.  The opportunistic criminals are beginning to take advantage of the PD's near total involvement downtown and are beginning to commit crimes such as armed robbery elsewhere in the city (something else I bet the media won't tell you).

Here's a report of several individuals threatening to go downtown and "fix the protesters".  Great Bleeding Ghu, Bubba, put down your beer and think that one through again.  Isn't there enough trouble without you and your buddies aggravating things?

Maybe not.  There is a report of a large-ish group of motorcycles back by cars moving into downtown.  No mention who is driving.  Please, not another Klan-Nazi shootout.

Good grief, now we have an "armed to the terror of the public" call.  We're using a Jim Crow law to go after black rioters.  Jesus wept.

Things were starting to heat back up and bingo, it got quiet.  Scanner app could not connect.  Checked Broadcastify, they show their feed down by request of the CMPD.  I've also tried another scanner app with no luck.  So now it's a black hole down there as we get to rely on the media for word of what's going on.  I'm sure that's going to work well.

It's going to be a long night for Charlotte.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Alert! One of the Seven Seals has been broken!

I have managed to purchase .22 LR ammo at a Walmart without any extra jumping through hoops such as knowing someone, arriving at some special time or any of those sorts of things.

Sorry, it was the last box.  It won't do any good to tell you where I got 350 rounds for $18.

Heck, maybe this being retired thing won't be so bad after all.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Catching up on range time

I will say one thing for being involuntarily retired--you have time to catch up on things that you don't have time to do when you're busy being a wage slave, as long as they either don't cost a lot of money or they use items or supplies previously purchased.  Today we made use of items in the later category.

A few weeks ago Son and I had ventured forth to the Greensboro Gun Show.  Son was looking for his first pistol to go with his shiny new Concealed Carry License.  He had been looking for some time and had his eye on the Sig P938 BRG while I was looking for nothing in particular.  He was able to find his pistol without too much trouble at one of my two go-to dealers for such things.  (Yes, that's why they are my go-to dealers.)

In my case, as usual when you aren't looking for anything in particular, things sort of follow you home.  (This is why I won't be going to gun shows for a while.)  In this case it was a Ruger LC9S Pro with a Crimson Trace Laser Guard.  Mrs. Freeholder is both recoil sensitive and doesn't care for heavy pistols, a recipe for difficult buying.  And yes, I perfectly aware that one shouldn't buy a pistol for one's spouse without their being around to handle it.  Not an issue here, as I figured I'd be perfectly happy to use it myself if she doesn't care for it.

I also ran into a friend from my range who was selling off some guns.  He is recently retired and his wife has decreed that some of his collection must go.  So I picked up a nice unfired Smith and Wesson 642 CT.  This is the fully shrouded hammer lightweight J-frame .38 Special +P.  My fourth J-frame; the things are like potato chips to me.  I love 'em.

So today it was time to head to the range and try all of these guys out.  Son started with his P938.  I love the boy, but he has some serious bad habits to unlearn.  Between recoil anticipation and jerking/snatching the trigger, he shoots patterns, not groups.  The gun, however, can deliver groups, so we know the gun is OK.  We had one problem with a single magazine failing to feed Federal Hydra-shok ammo when filled to its 7 round capacity.  Other than that, the gun shot fine, not one problem.  I did not shoot it, so I can't testify to it's shooting characteristics.  I can say that while we are both not working, we are going to start spending some quality time at the range with .22s and work on those problems.  They have got to go.

I first tried the LC9S, and was rather pleasantly surprised.  I've read the reviews, and honestly, I really didn't think a gun at this price point was going to be all that great.  I was wrong.  It is a very nice, relatively soft-shooting pistol when you consider it's size and weight and the round it was firing (115 gr ball and 124 gr Federal Hydra Shoks).  At no time did it feel overly difficult to control.  I've shot a number of the small 9s, and some of them can be a little lively--not the sort of gun I would recommend for a newer shooter.  The little Ruger, on the other hand, I would feel comfortable putting in the hands of a shooter with less experience.  With a few tips on recoil control I believe a newish shooter would find themselves shooting accurately very quickly...

Assuming they can master those God-awful sights.  For crying out loud, couldn't we pay an extra $25 or something and get some decent sights on this gun?  I understand that we want a low profile sight because this is meant to be a carry gun, but even with the laser, I want usable sights, and these ain't them.  I'm looking for replacements, and I looks like I'm going to be at a minimum $100 for a decent set of sights and the necessary tools to install them.  Ruger, fix these sights.

My second gun was the Smith 642.  Loading it with some PMC brass-cased .38 Special, My first round was slightly to the right of the 2" black dot I was aiming for and elicited shout of "Ho-lee shit!"  As the real gun writers would say, recoil is quite lively.  At slightly less than 1 pound, the 642 simply has no mass to suck up the recoil of even standard .38 Special.

This doesn't mean the gun is uncontrollable.  You simply have to get a good grip, similar to the one you might use on a 14' rattler that you were holding just behind the head while it was trying to get free to bite you.  I'm exaggerating, of course, but you do have to get a very good grip and put all your recoil control skills to work if you plan on shooting this gun quickly with any acceptable level of accuracy.  After 3 cylinders or so, I had it figured out and was shooting an acceptable group at 15 yards.  More practice would of course yield better results.

We had a wonderful Sunday afternoon.  Even though it was still quite warm, you can tell that autumn will be here soon.  Some of the trees are already starting to show the very first signs of their summer green fading a bit, and the hickories were dropping nuts already.  Someone at the range cleanup day had piled firewood at several of the burn barrels in preparation for the cooler months.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year.  I love the colors and the smells and I enjoy the work that comes with it, putting gardens to bed, splitting and hauling firewood and all the rest.  I have to admit that as I enter my own personal autumn, it takes on a bit more bittersweet flavor than it had 20 years ago.  But still, it's my favorite time of year, and being able to enjoy an early autumn afternoon at the range with my son is one of those things that will help me me warm when the inevitable winter comes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Networking

As someone who has been involved at some level or another in survivalism, or it's most recent incarnation, prepping, since the 70s, I've seen a lot of things come and go.  In the 70s, we had a lot of lone wolf types who were going to go down in their bunker, pull the hole in after them and wait for The End of The World to be over, after which they would emerge, ready to be one of the few who would put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Uh-huh.

These days, we see a lot more intelligence applied to the subject.  While many still primarily prepare for the doomsday scenario, far more are preparing for things far less serious but far more likely to occur, such as hurricanes, ice storms and, as has happened to me recently, job loss.

Something that quickly occurred to many people in the 70s is that the Lone Wolf or Wolf Pack (a small number of people hunkered down in that same bunker) is too few people to perform all the tasks needed to ensure the group's long term survival.  A small group of 3, 6 or even 12 people will be hard pressed to till, plant and harvest enough food, provide adequate security and have the breadth of skills necessary in a long term survival scenario.  (We'll leave out the genetic concerns of inbreeding.)

Around Y2K, talk turned to building intentional communities of like-minded individuals, big enough to provide the critical mass of bodies and skills that would be necessary after the turn of the millennium brought all the computers to their collective electronic knees and civilization collapsed.  Fortunately for all of you, people like me busted our butts for several years, and the real damage done was slight and easily dealt with for the most part.  I will admit that I found getting emails on the morning of Jan. 2 dating from 1969 to be a bit humorous, though.

Today, it appears that we have moved away from the intentional communities (at least for the most part, there are still a number of them out there and going strong, such as Rawles' Redoubt in the northwest US) and toward more individual/family-oriented prepping, but with a twist.  With the rise of the Internet, it has become almost foolishly easy to reach out to other kindred souls and form groups.  I've seen a number of them on various prep-oriented boards, some of the as large as "Southeast" and some as narrow as a given subdivision.  I think this is probably a good thing overall, as there are probably as many different variations on prepping as there are preppers.

In my case, I had made preparations for job loss, and had started that some time ago.  I knew going into the job that my Itty-Bitty University in the Boonies had funding issues.  Helping fix that was part of why I was hired.  It was obvious over the years that things were getting worse and events beginning in the spring and continuing through the summer made it clear that I needed to be sure I and my family were positioned to survive the potential loss of my job and income.  I had carefully went over all the numbers and concluded we could do it.  There would be cut backs, but we can live without "Ooooh shiney!"

During my employment I had started doing something that you often hear mentioned as a good career move, and that we have been discussing above--networking.  I set up a LinkedIn account and started linking with co-workers, vendors, people I met at trade shows, pretty much everyone who made sense from a connection point of view.  I also made sure to carefully construct my profile to put my best foot forward.

I also "put myself out there" by participating in professional groups.  This is a bit harder than it might sound, because I'm not much of a "joiner".  But I forced myself out of my comfort zone and joined anyway.  Amazingly, I didn't die.  :-)

Then there was the issue of stopping myself from turning down opportunities to get exposure.  I've authored a couple of professional articles for some small publications in my field, started participating on various discussion boards and attending more vendor group meetings.

All of these things have their analogies in the prepping world.  Substitute Facebook (I'm sorry, but I'm not as paranoid about it as many in the prepping community are--we're already on the damn list, so get over it) for LinkedIn and you have a powerful free platform that can reach people all over the world with your message.

In place of professional groups, you can substitute groups such as a ham radio club, a volunteer fire department or something similar, where you can gain valuable skills and knowledge while making connections with people who may share some of the same concerns as you.

Instead of authoring articles for a publication, you can start a blog.  Write about the things you know.  If your contribution to the accumulated prepping body of knowledge is "just" a better way of waterproofing matches,  that is still something that is critically important.  Share the wealth.

There are a ton of prepping-oriented boards, and lot of boards that are devoted to skills that preppers like to acquire.  Participate in them.  If you have nothing useful to say, just read.  You'll be surprised what you will pick up and what others will pick up from you.

Those of you who have been hanging around here for a while know these posts are usually motivated by something that's happened to me, and this one is no exception.  Today was officially to be my last day at Itty-Bitty University.  Wednesday was actually the last day, as the new folks had finished wringing out all the information they felt they needed.  (Pity they didn't know all the right questions to ask, but that's not my fault.)

Today, I've been offered what will likely be a moderately lucrative consulting gig and I'm pretty sure I was asked to apply for a position that would be a nice step up from my old one.  That's what my network has stirred up for me, and I haven't even really tried reaching out to people in it yet.  This came from a few people in it who had heard of my situation and mentioned my name to a couple of people who might be looking for someone with my unusual set of skills.

Imagine what a well-curated network of survival-oriented contacts could do for you in a bad situation.  Start reaching out now, before you need them.  The ass you save may just be your own.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Does this gun make me look fat?

(Via the Drudge Report)

I can't beat the original headline.  Holsters designed for women.

Gee--someone finally recognized their bodies are different and making it pink didn't actually do anything about a poor fit.

Monday, September 05, 2016

"It's a recession is when your neighbor losses his job..."

But it's a depression when you lose yours.

If you have any interest in economics, you'll recognize that joke.  It's a great joke, until it happens to you.  Yep, it's a depression here at The Freehold.  This post is part venting, part lesson.  I hope you'll find it worth reading.  

I don't often talk about my work, but I was (that's hard to type) at the top of the food chain in information technology at a small, rural private university.  As with most small, rural, private universities, we've been struggling for years with declining enrollments and a declining endowment and trying to find our way out of that hole.  Something over a year ago, we got a shiny new president and since then, there have been a lot of changes.  Almost all the C-level staff has been replaced.  Old programs that were once successful and could be again are being revitalized and new programs are on the boards.  Things are changing and changing fast.

Also for many years, IT has been drastically underfunded and understaffed.  Compared to nearby institutions, we have as little as 25% of their headcount and have been expected to handle 3 campuses in 3 cities compared to their single campuses with the same number of students.  We're behind the curve in most areas of technology and frankly, it shows.  What funding we've had has went into presentation and video conferencing technology for our classrooms and the back-end systems that keep the lights on.  Only in the last 2 years have we been able to begin updating user devices, some of which were nearly a decade old.

Happily, we were told we that this year would be getting more resources in order to meet the new needs.  We could expect old unfilled positions to be filled and new positions to be created.  IT was going to be ramped up to meet the new needs.

I was looking forward to being a part of that, but that's not going to happen.  Late Friday afternoon, the CFO trots into my office and tells me the university has hired a Chief Information Officer (something they've needed for years and a position I'm unsuited for).  In the next breath, he tells me they've also decided to outsource IT, and how this dovetails with everything I've been telling them about how this and that system needs upgrading, how we need more staff and so on.  Then I'm told there will be a position for me with the outsourcing group.

That's a lot for me to process that quickly, but if you work in IT as long as I have, you either learn to think fast or find a different career.  My first though when he said there would be a CIO was "Please God, don't let them be a dick."  When I found out who it was, I inwardly groaned, because, yep, I know him and he's a dick.  Then when I processed the outsourcing bits, I was able to fall back to something, and that's why I'm telling you all this--I want to talk to you about the value of have pre-planned scenarios in place that you can fall back on when everything goes to shit in 60 seconds.

Yes, that's how long it took him to blurt all that out--60 seconds.  I won't go into my thoughts on how he handled it, but in 60 seconds, my life turned 180o.  However, I was able to process this on my feet, not freak out and not only have answers for his questions but was also able to needle him a bit because I had already gamed out something similar to this some time ago.

Scenario-based planning, which goes by other names, such as scenario planning is a method of training that when used at a personal level, when something happens, you in effect have seen it before and you already know how to react to it.  I first heard about it in the military, but I had my first serious exposure to it in college as a business major.  Large corporations tend to be big on scenario planning.  It's long been used by athletes, who have used it in training to see themselves performing actions in their sport in the most perfect way possible.  It's being widely adopted by self-defense trainers, and with good reason.  The human brain can deal with the familiar much faster than it can the unique.

I've been using scenario planning in my personal life since before I graduated college.  I find that having scenarios already gamed out frequently puts me ahead of the crowd in many if not most situations.  It frequently helps me out and on a few occasions has really saved my bacon.

It's not a difficult process, although the scenarios can be complex.  A simple scenario would be going into a restaurant.  You're seated and you go through the following exercise in your head--Where are the exits?  Where is cover?  Can I see all the exits?  Does anyone in here now look or act squirrelly?  If the threat comes through the front door, what is my move?  It probably sounds like a lot, but once you're used to doing it, it doesn't take much time.  It becomes almost automatic, like breathing.

Also bear in mind, I'm not an expert on this and I'm offering an overly simplistic explanation of how this works.  If you've seen something before, or if you've done something before, you have, in effect, some pathways in place in your head that help make things go faster and smoother.  The beauty of it is that you don't have to physically have had the event take place in reality.  Having played it inside your head will work nearly as well as having done it in real life.  While you can practice, for example, making that perfect tee shot 280 yards down the middle of the fairway, you don't want to practice losing you job on short notice in real life, since it's pretty hard on your family.

I had worked up this particular scenario for the reasons I outlined earlier.  My employer was not having an easy time of things, and their long term survival was far from assured.  Certain recent funding issues had caused me to revisit this subject and renew this planning with a certain urgency.  So when we got to the "and there will be a place for you with the outsourcing group", I already had my answer ready.

"No, I don't think I'd like to do that."

Talk about a damper on conversation.  Apparently the CFO had not planned for this particular scenario.  This was foolish of him, since he is well aware that I'm already pulling a retirement check from my years of government service.  Time for the needling.  Why not--at this point I'm out of work soon anyway.

"But, but, but what are you going to do?" was the response after several seconds of confused silence.

"I've got at least a couple of years worth of work backlogged around my house that I haven't had time to get to because of my schedule here.  Now I'll have time to get that caught up."

At least now he's back on a script of sorts.  "No, I mean for work."

"I'll have all the work I need to keep me busy,"  I said, keeping right on needling.

"No, paying work--what will you do for paying work?"

"I can do with out it.  Did you forget I'm drawing a retirement check already?"

The look on his face said it all.  He had forgotten that little fact, and apparently he and everyone else involved expected that I would stay on because I needed the money.  I know why they need me to stay on--I'm the last technical person on staff.  I know how it all works.  While a lot is documented now (compared to nothing was documented when I came in), there is still a lot that isn't documented.

Oopsie.

The conversation tottered about a bit more, with the CFO attempting to persuade me what a great thing this was and me rocked back in my chair with my arms crossed.  I considered putting my feet up on my desk, but I figured that was a bit much.  I did manage to persuade him to not tell the rest of the staff on the day before a 3 day weekend.  (What is is with organizations and this sort of thing?  You can do it on a Monday?)  Could I go talk to the new CIO?  He was here and wanted to talk with me.  I told him sure, but that I was in the middle of something and I wanted to wrap that up first.

I was an asshole and took 20 minutes to finish 5 minutes work.  But I did eventually go up and talk with the new CIO, who apparently had been briefed that I was not going to be hanging about to have my brain picked clean..  He was, to his credit, much more straightforward in asking me to stay through the transition period, and I straightforwardly told him that wouldn't be happening.  After that, he didn't seem to be all that interested in talking to me.  Surprise.

So I left, went back to my office and by the time I gathered up a few things it was 5.  Even though I usually don't leave at 5, Friday I did.  I needed to talk to Mrs. Freeholder.

We did talk.  I went over what had transpired and we both explored our thoughts and opinions on the situation.  We talked over our financial situation, which is good.  We have long lived beneath our means, and we are nearly debt free.  We have been saving money at a significant rate.  There is enough money coming into the place to live on and probably still save some amount.  There are things that my salary paid for that we can cut out.  They were nice things, fun things, but things we don't have to have or do.  We won't be saving as much as we used to.  The budget will be stricter and more important. Predictability in expenses will again become important.

I will look for another gig, but there are unavoidable facts that must be faced.  I'm in my mid-50s in a business that values youth over experience.  We live in an area that isn't exactly overrun with opportunities for work at the level I was at.  It will be difficult for me to step back a level or two, because hiring managers will automatically expect that either I'm taking the job until I can find something better or I'm going to constantly be questioning how they're doing their job.  I can't blame them, I would think exactly the same things in their position.

Mrs. Freeholder does not wish to relocate.  This places a strict limit on the universe of available employers I can consider.  I can't go back to work for a large segment of our state government without giving up my pension checks, and I'm not willing to do that.

All that said, we were able to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion in time to go out for dinner.  I emailed the CFO and the head of HR my two weeks notice Saturday morning.

In my line of work things change, and they change fast.  If I can't find employment within 6 months, 12 at the outside, I will probably be unemployable in IT.  My career, over 27 years of work, will be over.  All the scenarios in the world don't make that bitter pill taste better, because I really would like to continue working.  Outside of the money, I actually like what I do.

There is the possibility of changing careers, but I think that unlikely given the economy.  I'll explore it, but I doubt it pans out.  At best, I expect I may find something that pays some fraction of my former job, enough to take the pressure off of the household budget and that is at least a tolerable place to spend some hours.

I knew when the new president arrived and I was cut out of the cool kids club that this probably wasn't a good thing, but after some months and no ax falling, I though perhaps I had misread the situation.  Obviously I was wrong.  However, the fact that I had made plans for this event, even though the plans were made assuming a different trigger, are what is going to make the difference between this situation being a big disappointment and it being a catastrophe.

I can live with disappointment.  Catastrophe, probably not so much.

Got plans?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Free as in beer

From the email inbox, USGS 7.5 minute topo maps in pdf format, set up to be printed on you printer.  Hillshading, meant to give you an idea of the topography, at no extra cost.

Given the previous post, these could be all sorts of useful.

Well I don't care for this one iota

(Via the Drudge Report)

Maybe it's time to measure me for a tinfoil hat.

Even before the FBI identified new cyber attacks on two separate state election boards, the Department of Homeland Security began considering declaring the election a "critical infrastructure," giving it the same control over security it has over Wall Street and and the electric power grid.

I didn't know that the jokers who brought us Too Stupid for Arbys had also given themselves control over the security of Wall Street and the electric company, although that does explain a few things.  But the elections?

I'm betting this election is in the bag already.  I, for one, am not looking forward to our new Democrat overlords.