Monday, November 24, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition

Dragon Age Inquisition was recently released.  I haven't played it a hell of a lot yet, but I want to jot down my initial impressions before I forget. One of the very first things I experienced was frustration.  I didn't feel like the noob zone provided me with enough opportunity to learn and fully grasp the fighting mechanics of my class, the user interface (especially tactical mode), and just generally feeling competent enough to face a boss fight.  There wasn't a lot of explanation about switching to and controlling the various party members either.  A lot of times the interfaces weren't intuitive and I was sit there struggling to figure out how to make a selection and get to the next stage.  I think part of the problem is that the UI may have been developed for the console and just retrofitted for the PC.  My husband has played the console and PC versions and said the console controller lends itself to way more intuitive game play for this specific game. I did try his controller and have to agree.

The character create engine is pretty amazing.  The amount of control you have in the facial structure is incredible.  I struggled quite a bit to make an attractive looking female but it is totally possible with some effort (we're not all 3d character artists like my husband!).  Some things that were misses were the hair styles for women were limited in terms of aesthetics, there were few long hair options, and a lot of really butch looking stuff, and no black hair color (the closest you could get was a dark gray or dark brown). Most of the eyebrow options were down right laughable. The specularity of the hair on the PC is totally jacked too, looking like all the hair is slicked with vaseline or made of shiny plastic. Pretty bizarre and distracting in-game.  This isn't an issue on the console either, just the pc version.

Another odd thing I noticed is that the females have a pretty exaggerate side to side hip swing when they walk/run combined with a running animation where the rib-cage/upper-body rotates like a clothes washing machine which makes for a really odd looking animation.  On top of that, the cut scenes show other (NPC) female characters with the pronounced hip wag walking along side my female player character which is walking rigid like a dude instead of a chick...maybe they hooked up the wrong walk animation for female player characters for cut-scenes or it's hid under the armor?  Or it could just be my imagination too.  lol

We tried to play the co-op which was what I was most excited about.  I play a little solo (but unless it's as good as Borderlands, I'll lose interest and go do something more productive like "real" crafting before I get really invested into it) but mostly I just want to have time with my husband where we play together at night and on weekends.  I was pretty frustrated with the multiplayer option of this game. With the single player game, you have so much you can do, the world is vast, the options for class progression are wide open, you have 3 NPCs in your party to augment your skills, there's character progression based on player chosen responses to dialogue interactions with NPC scripts where you gain/lose approval from your NPC support team,  you have crafting (potions/armor/weapons/augmentations) and self-directed questing (you pick where you go and what you do) and lots of loot (that you can wear, sell or equip on your NPC team members) and a bunch of other cool stuff like the war table (gaining favor, power and inquisition points), and travel/map and collections.  It's great.

If only I could just get something as rich and immersive as that single-player game that allowed two players.  I'd even be happy playing a non-custom (one of the 3 NPCs) character in my husband's game.  I just don't like to play by myself and prefer playing together with Jason.  But the multiplayer for this game is really meant for 4 players and doesn't allow two players to augment with 2 NPC team members, and you can't get through all barriers with two people because you need a mage to cast spells to open some, a rogue to pick locks for others, and a tank to smash down the rest.  So you have to take the long way around or just bypass those areas not accessible to you.  Then you don't get ANY tutorial for how the game differs from single player which was bad enough with its own lack of tutorials, but this mode gave you literally NO tutorial.

There's no crafting, no quest picking, limited class customization (abilities), no character create.  It's got a great level design that changes with each attempt at the first mission so you aren't doing the same thing over and over but we never did get through the first event...I think the best we did was 3 of 5 or maybe 4 of 5 before we'd run out of potions and our health doesn't regen so you just keep widdling down until one of you dies and then it's not long before the other goes. You can only be incapacitated 3 times before you are stuck watching the rest of the event as a fade spectator.  You only get two potions per slot and only one slot for healing potions, mtx doesn't allow you to buy specific potions except for a basic heal, you can't buy class-specific chests (so if you're a mage you could spend plat on a big chest and get gear for tanks and rogues and nothing you can actually use), you don't realize that you share all your dropped gear/weapons across all your multiplayer characters so if you break it down for salvage before you figure this out, too bad for you!

There are leader boards and kill comparisons at the end of each event and it's always nice from my perspective to see some analytics data so I appreciated that where my hubby wasn't so keen on that (he does twice the kills I do on average so I'm not sure why except that I'm sure he just doesn't want me to get discouraged).  He's a nice guy :)

Another thing I notes was that they have MTX for multiplayer but not for single player. Sure I can make potions in single player, but it just seems like microtransactions could have been made available in both.  I would have spent real money in single player to have a horse earlier, or to get potions I can't yet make, or to buy recipes, or get prettier looking gear/horses/cool weapon effects.  Yes, I'm susceptible to vanity items!  I'm a MTX marketers dream player, way more money that good sense when it comes to having cool stuff when I'm playing, even by myself. lol  And it's kinda sad when players like me wish we could spend money in-game and can't.  Missed opportunity there guys!

So, I spent the entire day Sunday playing.  We started out playing multiplayer but I can't figure out how to play a tank in this game.  I can't move and attack at the same time like a Rogue can.  The Bull rush takes me out into that back 40 instead of stopping at the first NPC I ram into.  The tab targeting option is completely disabled for multiplayer so I don't feel like I can play FPS style nor can I play MMORPG style, at least as I am used playing them.  It's frustration time 10.  So we ended up going back to single player.  I created a mage this time (since the tank class was not working for me) and I had a LOT more fun with that and felt  way more effective even though I still couldn't tab target effective for some reason.

Will I keep playing?  Yes, in single player mode only because the game just has too much to offer to give it up.  But I feel like there are a lot of areas where missed opportunities abound. The fact that I'm so excited about how it "could" have been means they did a whole hell of a lot right with the single player game.  I know it probably doesn't sound like it from my rant here, but it's a great game already with just the little I've played it.  I just wish someone would put a bit more effort into a co-op version besides Borderlands IP producers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My first private carbine lesson

Back in July I took my first private carbine lesson.  I had hoped to write about it shortly after that but then one of my beloved dogs got sick and passed away, and it just sort of put a stop to my celebratory mood.   But things are finally starting to settle down and so I wanted to at least write up what I remember of that experience now, all these months later.

The class I took was a half day private lesson at Combative Weapon Solutions. My instructor was Rom (I think his first name is Justin). If memory serves me, he's with the 82nd Airborne. So this guy isn't a weekend warrior.  He's the real deal.  I was sort of worried that he'd be so uber alpha that he'd be more than a little condescending trying to teach a chick.  But Rom was AMAZING.  I felt like I was dying out there in the Texas in July heat (which was my own fault for not wanting to get up for an morning session instead of an afternoon session) but it didn't throw Rom off at all. We got through the material, in fact way more detail than I'd hoped to cover, and he did it with a consistently positive attitude no matter how much trouble I was having.  He was awesome.  Just a genuinely really nice guy with an incredible amount of knowledge. It was by far the best carbine instruction I've received. Combative Weapon Solutions has a first class training program that is totally female friendly.

Across the board, this class exceeded my expectations: communication style, ability of male military-veteran instructor to interact effectively with a female student, instructor knowledge/real-world experience, teaching style, content covered, organized sequence of material, level of technical detail provided, ability to apply teaching to relevant examples, ability to troubleshoot on the fly, offering reasons "why" as well with the "how" of instruction, exhibiting AMAZING patience and flexibility with deviating from the program when I experienced problems, thoroughness of answering questions, helping me identify problems with my carbine that impacted my effectiveness, and making sure I was completely satisfied at the end of the class.  He was amazing and I had way too much fun!

Here's what was covered:
  • Anatomy of a carbine
  • Loading and operation of carbine
  • Zeroing rifle and zero body position (I had some major issues with this which I'll talk about in a second)
  • Fundamentals of stance and positioning
  • Trigger management (the same stuff you learn in pistol class)
  • Reloading mechanics
  • Clearing malfunction protocols including:
    • failure to feed
    • failure to eject
    • double feed
    • bolt over ride 
  • Moving fundamentals with a loaded carbine
  • A ton of firing drills
When we got to the zero body position, I didn't realize that I'm not anatomically capable of putting myself in the position required.  My neck is literally curved the wrong way (every chiropractor that's ever x-rayed my neck freaks out that I have any range of motion with my head, let alone as good I have).  But after struggling in class for a significant period of time, with me continually complaining that the red dot on my EOTech was disappearing when I exhaled to take the shot (Rom was an absolutely SAINT being as patient as he was), eventually Rom deduced that I was oxygen deprived and my vision was blacking out (at the time the topic of my neck issues weren't raised, so he didn't know I was literally cutting off my air supply hyper extending my neck like that).  He then instructed me to hyperventilate before exhaling for the shot and that worked, I could see to take the shot!!  It was really very uncomfortable, being in the sun and all covered up in protective clothes and being in a weird position and not being able to breath, but I did eventually get through it.  

The rest of the class was an absolute blast. I was so exhausted from the zeroing exercise that I wasn't able to do as well as I'd liked to have done, but I am definitely going to take this again.  It really improved my confidence with my carbine in a environment where I set the pace.  I definitely want to take their group carbine classes too. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel

So, I played (and loved) the shit out of Borderlands 2.  I loved the level design, the character design, the loot, the writer (hilarious as hell, Tiny Tina was my absolute fav!), the class structure, the game play.  The only co-op game that even comes close to this game in my mind is Diablo III.  In fact, I think Borderlands 2 has ruined me.

Jason and I just played Borderlands the Pre-Sequel.  It was meh.  Too hard right out of the gate.  There is something to be said about coming out of the gate feeling like a bad ass. Jason and I aren't amazing gamers, but we're good (he's way better than me), but damn if we didn't get our asses handed to us with EVERY SINGLE BOSS fight. I had more trips to the morgue and money charges to rez then I spent on buying stuff.  WTF?  Not cool when you're just starting off and don't have any good gear yet.  It really impacted the ability to have fun.  I don't want the game to be too easy, but too hard isn't fun either.

We haven't played a second night. Usually when a co-op game comes we're on that shit. We love to play together.  But this time, I'm not sure what it is.  The new studio developing this one just doesn't have the special sauce Gearbox had when they made Borderlands 2.  It's still the holy grail of date-night gaming in my house. lol

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I took a trip traveling Southern England with my MIL this past June.  It was really her trip.  Her son didn't want her gallivanting halfway across the globe by herself so he volunteered me to go with her. I'd never been to Europe and jumped at the chance to tag along.  She was nice enough to accommodate both her son's wishes and my company on her excursion of a lifetime.

We started out in London, staying at Covent Garden Hotel.  This was way out of our price range, but my husband's twin brother is quite the jet setter and purchased the hotel reservation as her Mother's Day gift and I was lucky enough to benefit from it.  He made reservations there for the beginning and end of our travels. It was luxurious.

We spent two days in London exploring.  We visited the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Place (no tour though), Picadilly Circus, Trafalger Square, took "the tube", and walked along the river.  We saw too many things to list but we walked for two days straight and I have more pictures than I know what to do with! I learned quickly about my MIL's love affair with the Iced Latte.  This became a common theme each and every morning.  I don't drink coffee of any kind so it was in stark contrast to my usual morning routine.  But I absolutely love the aroma of coffee so it was all good!

Then we took a train to Canterbury to see the Canterbury Cathedral.  It was at this point that we realized a major flaw in our travel plans. My MIL had assumed we'd be able to find lockers to rent to store our luggage in, at the various stops we made in between hotels.  Due to terrorist bombings, there are no such accommodations. It was a bit absurd lugging our bags around with us, and we were fortunate enough to find people willing to break the rules and stow our bags while we took a quick tour here and there throughout our trip.  In fact, in our next stop, Dover, where we visited the white cliffs, my MIL actually got a marriage proposal (in jest) from the kind elderly rule-braking gentleman that allowed us to store our bags in his broom closet.  Getting to the cliffs required a bit of a hike, so thank goodness that little old man was smitten with my MIL or we'd have faced hiking with wheeled luggage.  That would have been a pretty funny comedy of errors, but I'm glad we were spared that proposition! The cliffs were beautiful and allowed us time to truly enjoy the  beautiful weather we had (the only rain I saw in England in my 12 days there was on the tarmac on-board my departing flight home which is pretty fortunate for Spring in England!).  It was amazing to see the cliffs across the channel in France.

Then back on the train to our next stop, Brighton, where we stayed for the night.  The hotel we stayed at was absolutely horrid.  It was so bad, I refused to use the shower (that's pretty bad).  We both agreed the best thing to do was to find a wonderful restaurant, a fine bottle of wine and enjoy ourselves until we simply didn't care about returning to our hotel room to embrace the oblivion of sleep, no matter what was crawling around on the floor and walls.  First thing in the morning we packed up and ate breakfast at the hotel recommended restaurant that was equally atrocious.  This was an after-bar breakfast sober-up dive.  The other patrons at 6am were still seriously inebriated and definitely still in Friday night party spirits, yelling and swearing and carrying on. Sitting there with my ultra-conservative MIL, while these guys created chaos all around us, was quite a laughable contrast. The breakfast consisted of bacon (a huge slab of ham) and eggs drowned by a can of pork beans. We had to pay before we were served. Yep! One of THOSE establishments. lol

Then we took the first train we could catch to Southampton. We took a boat to the Isle of Wight and saw the Needles. Wow, was that a hike!  But seeing how beautiful natural erosion can be was pretty impressive and well worth the expended effort.  This was also an old launch site for test missiles many years ago so we got to see the bunker associated with that too.  That night we walked to this great little restaurant in Southampton called The Olive Tree.  This was the best meal of the entire trip IMHO and my MIL and I enjoyed a bit too much wine.  So much so that my MIL forgot her coat on the back of her chair that night and we had to go back in the morning to fetch it.  Luckily it was still there.  I couldn't complain about this as I'd forgot my cell phone in a train depot bathroom and had to make a mad dash down the stairs and across the level (in the same style as OJ's commercial running through the airport) to retrieve my phone while my MIL sat on the departing training with mere minutes to spare before the train left without me. As luck would have it, I found my cell, a Note 3, so I'm very fortunate someone didn't lift it.  I ran back across the entire station, up to the platform level, through the turnstile, onto the train, and into my seat just before the train bell blared.  Since my MIL didn't have a phone and I have no way of getting in touch with her if we separated, this was a HUGE risk.  Luck doesn't even begin to cover it.

Speaking of luck, we did have a couple street punks try to scam my phone off the table while we enjoyed a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe in London on our second day.  Luckily my short-change artist training from my teenage cashier days kicked in and warning bells went off in my head when we were two-teamed by two boys.  I grabbed the first boys hand and sure enough my phone was already off the table and in his under the magazine he was purportedly trying to sell us. They ran off, without my $500 phone, thank heavens!

I was hurting pretty bad the day we headed out of Southampton.  I'd jumped back onto the bed while opening my laptop to look up the restaurant to call about the lost jacket and the bed (two twins pushed together) was not latched together and flew apart at the middle as both beds were on caster wheels.  I fell backward ass over teakettle, with quite some force, on the floor in between the two beds, landing onto the back of my head/neck with all my weight.  I struck my head on the metal bracket on the bed frame that hadn't been latched.  I saw stars to the point I thought I might pass out. Thankfully there was no blood, just an enormous goose egg on the back of my skull.  I checked my eyes for pin-point pupils and they seemed to be responding appropriately so I listened to my MIL's advice ("suck it up", I'm not joking) and we headed out to retrieve her jacket, eat breakfast and begin the next leg of our journey.

We took another train to Salisbury, on our way to visit Stonehenge which held an unexpected treat. We hadn't planned it intentionally, but the day before our visit was the Summer Solstice (a huge date for stone circles) and Stonehenge had been closed to the public for a large pre-purchased ticket event housing something like 35,000 attendees.  Apparently it was so crowded and noisy that the modern-day druids were unable to complete their holy ceremonies among the standing stones that day so they decided to do it on the following day (the day we visited).  I have video of the druids all dressed in white robs among the stone circle during their ceremony!  The rest of us were not allowed to get very close to the stones which was a bit disappointing but it makes sense with the thousands of people that were coming and going just on the day we were there.

We did have to lug our luggage around with us looking at the stones and on the ultra-cramped (think sardines in a can) commuter vans to and from the visitor center out to the stones.  It was a solid pain in the ass and I didn't have any patience left, being in the pain I was in.  I couldn't lift my bags or even turn my head without shooting pains down my spine and shoulder.  I used up my supply of Advil quickly and started taking my daily children's aspirin and used that up too.  I was miserable so I didn't have my usual patience for my MIL's lackluster sense of direction and near constant desire to ask other equally clueless tourists for directions to places unknown.  I would read a map, or a street sign and state the direction to go and she would invariably ask me, "Are you sure?"  I have a keen sense of direction and am skilled at map reading and rarely get lost.  I'm also typically very patient (well, except with people suffering from the Dunning Kruger Effect).  But due to my having reached my limit of discomfort and ability to be rough-and-tumble in the face of adversity, we ended up not speaking to one another for a time.  It was probably better that way. I needed compassion and wasn't seeing anything of the sort in my travel companion and I just might have bitch-slapped the next person that told me to "suck it up."

My MIL wanted to take a bus most of the trip but I really adored the passenger trains and had persuaded her to trains instead of buses up to that point.  However, she decided that we were going to take a bus from Salisbury to Bath instead of the train.  I can only speculate the timing of this decision with our falling out.  To my relief and delight (unfortunate but true, in my present state with a massive headache and back pain and no desire to sit on a stinky crowded bus for hours with a bunch of penny pinching tourists), the next stranger she asked for directions to the bus station told us that the Salisbury bus depot had burned down the year prior and wasn't replaced so the train was the only option to Bath.  I was never so thankful in my entire life.

And so it was back on the train heading to Bath. Bath was by far my favorite stop.  I could have stayed there the entire 12 days.  I didn't realize what "old" really was until I walked around Bath. In the U.S. "old" doesn't even touch upon what "old" means in Bath, or Europe as a whole for that matter. It was amazing and beautiful.. We took the afternoon and went our separate ways,  I took one of the double-decker open roof tour buses and then walked about to the areas that interested me while my MIL shopped for pants (she had forgotten to pack pants that she'd thought she'd packed and tried to find replacements and then prepped and mailed her postcards.)  We also took a boat tour and toured the Roman Baths. I tried to get in to enjoy the modern day baths too but didn't have enough time after a day exploring before they closed.  Poor planning on my part! We stayed two days and walked most of the older sections. For the first time, I found myself interested about history. I hope to return to Bath some day.

This was the mid-point of our trip and we'd planned to find and found a laundromat in Bath, but while I was off on my own, my MIL had talked to the gal at the hotel desk, who offered to launder our bag of dirty clothes for free!  Alas this ended up being too good to be true.  Apparently the heating element in their dryer was broken so our clothing ended up taking nearly the entire day to dry enough to bring back to us.  And she washed our whites with our darks, so my brand new $100 white lace Victoria's Secrets bra was returned a dingy gray.  I think one of my MILs shirts was actually ruined too.  Lesson learned.

Then we took a train to Stratford, where we wanted to take the Shakespeare tour and the tour of Ann Hathaway's cottage.  This town was set up quite inefficiently (total pet-peeve of mine).  There was little signage when exiting the train station about where things were and the visitor centre ended up being literally on the other side of town and there were no taxis to be found.  We had to walk all way the way across town with our luggage to find out that Ann Hathaway's cottage was back the way from which we came and then some, several miles past the train station.  We decide to skip the Shakespeare tour.  We walked all the way back, stored our luggage at the local grocery (near the train depot), in lockers intended for shopping carts for people visiting the adjoined coffee shop.  We then continued walking, without a map...what visitor centre doesn't give out maps? My MIL, in true fashion, asked all these people on the street, mostly school children, where Ann Hathaway's cottage was located.  They didn't know.  Well, one boy was quite excited about learning she had a cottage in Stratford but I think he thought we were talking about the modern day actress. lol  Finally the school children she kept asking told her to ask their "Miss" (their teacher) who was also walking along the sidewalk.  She didn't know who Ann Hathaway was either.  My MIL had a near meltdown at this revelation. LOL.  We finally did make it to the cottage and there were some lovely gardens there. The cottage had low beamed ceilings on the 2nd floor and I unfortunately hit the back of my head AGAIN in the upstairs of the cottage on a beam.  Not good.

I demanded (and paid for) a taxi back to town.  From there we took a local bus to Chipping Campden where we stayed the night at a Bed and Breakfast.  It was quaint and beautiful. There was another couple staying there who were doing a walking tour where you hire a tour company that takes your bags from BNB to BNB and you walk along a pre-defined path through woods and farm fields and formal paths from point to point.  It sounded like they were having a splendid time!  We ate at the Eight Bells which was clearly very old.  My MIL made google eyes the entire meal at some retired British actor that I'd never seen before who had a blonde trophy wife draped proudly on his elbow. lol We visited Hidcote gardens the next day which was simply overwhelming in its magnitude.

Back in Stratford by cab from Hidcote, we then took a train to Moreton-in-Marsh and then on to Oxford.  The hotel there seemed more like a frat house but it was near the locks so we were good. We met a lovely retired couple that gave us ride on their long boat to Oxford city centre. They were retired river tour guides and now I want very badly to tour England's water ways by long boat! We took a formal boat tour as well in which the boat operator/tour guide asked me to assist him by operating the locks while he controlled the boat.  It was very fun and a bit daunting as these are HUGE hydraulic piston locks that are clearly not meant to be operated by a novice.  He opened the first lock, and instructed me on my job and then got back on the boat and took it into the lock.  Then I closed the lock, walked over to the other side and opened the other lock after the lock filled.  It was great fun being trusted with something so important!  While in the city centre we did our best to hit all of Inspector Morse pubs. My MIL was mortified when I didn't know who Inspector Morse was and referred to him (in jest) as Inspector Gadget when I couldn't recall his name.  My husband still laughs about this faux pas.

Then we returned to London, attending the play Julius Caesar at the The Globe our final night, they were younger actors but they did an amazingly good job.  We ate again at the same restaurant where the hoodlums almost lifted my phone.  Both my MIL and I think we saw Brad Pitt that day but at different times.  The sides of his head were shaved which must have been for the movie "Fury."  I walked back to the hotel early to use the WIFI (most of the hotels we stayed at had spotty, if any, internet access, I even hung out at the golden arches in Bath to use WIFI to chat online with my husband) and begin downloading all my photos off my phone which was really experiencing lag issues with all the memory used up.  My MIL didn't bring a camera or a phone so I was deemed responsible for all photo taking but didn't really get the time to organize them or download them off my phone so I took the time when I found it.  Glad I did too because if I hadn't saved them on the cloud, they'd be lost today as my drive crashed last month!

As I mentioned earlier, it started raining while I was on board my flight home.  It was funny to think I'd brought all this wet weather gear and never had the need for any of it. No complaints there obviously!  Another happy thing was that same day flying out of Heathrow, they were experiencing a major failure of their checked baggage system and nearly everyone on my flight arrived sans their luggage.  I was never so happy to have acclimated to Jason's no-checked-baggage travel policy as I was that day. We weren't told about the luggage issue until we landed in Austin and passengers were losing their minds.  I just walked by them quietly and out the door to my waiting husband as the other passengers stood like an angry mob around the barren baggage carousel.  I did 12 days and 11 stops with a single rolled carry-on luggage and a computer bag.  How many chicks can say they could do that?  Oh, and I'm totally in love with packing cubes.  If I can find my photos of my pack job (they may have been lost with the drive failure), I'll do a blog entry on that too.

Things I learned from this trip. 1) look RIGHT when crossing the road, 2) make sure to familiarize yourself with the local currency BEFORE you get there (I looked like an idiot trying to differentiate all the different coins that first day!) 3) mushy peas are apparently a staple food? ICK! 4) it's appropriate to slather baked beans on nearly all breakfast fare? DOUBLE ICK! 5) ice cubes are on request ICE, PLEASE! 6) crisps not chips, chips not fries, biscuits not cookies, lemonade is NOT lemonade (it's water with lemon or something), bacon is NOT bacon (it's a slab of ham)  7) passenger trains are so under rated 8) long boats are like floating RVs 9) I need better luggage and 10) don't forget to bring plenty of change (local currency of course) for the public lavatories!  I remember my MIL standing in front of the turnstiles crossing her legs in near panic and some good samariton plugging the meter twice so my MIL could go pee.

I really loved the trip and I want to go back. I'm grateful that my MIL and I are still on good terms. We had the opportunity to get to know one another much better than we had. I'd only visited her with my husband twice before this trip.  I think my MIL had the impression that I was high maintenance and that I wouldn't be up for the roughing it travel style she prescribes to but I think we were actually very well matched in terms of our love for outdoors, walking, eating in outdoor cafes, and covering a lot of ground each and every day.  You definitely can't judge me by my cover.  I used to look like a barbie doll (not so much these days, age has its way with a person), but I changed my own oil (truck), installed my own wood floors, built my own computers, and used to work as a housekeeper cleaning hotel toilets when I was a teenager.  I'm not as delicate as I look.  I also think she may have thought I was materialistic, and maybe she still does.  True, now that I can afford it, I like nice things (a luxury vehicle, housekeepers, weekly massage), but they are not things that define me. I just figure I don't have children to inherit my wealth so I might as well enjoy it.  As the saying goes, "you can't take it with you."

At the end of our trip my MIL dubbed me "PathFinder" which made me laugh.  I was glad to see that she appreciated my sense of direction after all!

I don't know when I'll be back to England but I hope it happens. For next year, I just booked a trip to Scotland!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Armadillo Clay

Today at lunch I stopped out at Armadillo Clay to pick up clay for my pottery class.  This was my first visit and it was a positive one.  The employees were very friendly, knowledgeable and super helpful which was very appreciated since I'm still new to clay.  I picked up some tools and a couple blocks of clay.  Since I mentioned the possibility of doing Raku, they informed me that the clay on my class list was not appropriate for the thermal shock resistance required for Raku.  So I purchased both the Dillo White from my class supply list and Raku clay just in case.  

They have a huge selection of fusing glass, slumping forms, glass cutting equipment, glazes, molds, clay and clay components, kilns, wheels, extruders, hand tools, and other tools and supplies.  In addition to my purchases, I also checked out their pottery wheels, but their prices are considerably higher than clay-king and although I like to buy local, a $350 price difference is too much of a difference so my wish list remains unchanged.  

I'll definitely come back to Armadillo.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Between Form and Function

My first class at Dougherty Arts Center is a pottery class called Between Form and Function taught by John Vela.  I attended my first of six classes last week.  There had apparently been some administrative issues because John had tried to reach me by email to inform me of materials I would need for class, but he had my email address wrong so I showed up empty-handed.  John was superb and made me feel right at home, quickly finding tools and clay that I could use for class without making it feel like an imposition.  He was wonderful.

Apparently you cxan focus on what you want in this class whether it be throwing on the wheel, slab/coil building or pinch pots.  Everyone wanted instruction on throwing on the wheel so we quickly moved into setup of our work area and centering clay.  Since I'm a lefty but often do things right-handed, I wasn't sure which way to go.  I told John what a horrid time I had trying to learn this skill thirty years ago back in high school (my pottery teacher actually completed my final project for me so as not to ruin my GPA, well, except for the lid, I did that myself).  He told me he wanted me on a reversible wheel and he started me off left-handed.

I had such an enjoyable time I can't help but think that my problems all those years ago were due to a right-handed wheel.  Although I do currently have considerably more upper body strength now too.  In any event, I was able to make two cylinders as instructed and then played around making imperfect (intentionally) pieces just to have fun and push boundaries of the art form for familiarity's sake.  I made four pieces in total.

John seemed to think I was doing well for a new student. I was able to make a cylinders as he'd instructed me to make, so I definitely felt like it was successful too.

He mentioned that there was the possibility of doing Raku firing if the burn ban continues to stay lifted, so I'm crossing my fingers.  I'm a HUGE raku lover and would love to have my own pieces to add to my home gallery.  Next on my list is to go pick up the clay John told met get and we'll see what else I learn in the next 5 weeks!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hormonal Hell & Other Things a Man Will Never Experience Out On The Shooting Range - My experience with Beyond the Basics and Competitive Pistol 1

Last weekend was a perfect storm for me.  I'm going through menopause early at forty-five and I haven't had my period since December of last year, so when I started menstruating the night before a full day of pistol classes, I was less than overjoyed. 

I have to wake up early for these classes since they're an hour away, there is a lot of gear to load in my vehicle and I need to arrive by 7:45am at the latest, and since I'm not a morning person I don't really look forward to my classes out at KR Training until after I'm on the firing line, gun loaded in holster, waiting to hear the beep to start shooting.

I knew things weren't going my way when I woke up Saturday morning and had already saturated the tampon I'd applied right before going to bed, so I added 2 tampons to my go-bag instead of my typical one.  I felt bloated and tender causing my lower-back to hurt, and my problem rib was dislocated both front and back again too so I was short-tempered before I even stepped out the door that morning, but I had signed up for these classes well in advance and didn't want to skip it due to something so trivial as my period or a chronic rib dislocation (it'd been in place for my earlier classes, so this was my first class with it out).  So I sucked it up, loaded up my gear and headed out to A-Zone range.  

I arrived early which was great because I didn't have to rush. Karl smiled when he saw me and said "There's a familiar face!"  That made me feel very welcome.  He also mentioned that next year I'd likely be ready to take the instructor courses so that was a vote of confidence I wasn't expecting either. Karl is a great teacher and an all around nice guy.  So are the rest of his staff.

The morning class was Beyond the Basics and a good portion of the class was review of things taught in Basic Pistol 2, but with a lot more background information about WHY we do things and HOW techniques evolved. Being much more of an intellectual than a jump-in-and-figure-it-out-as-I-go kind of person, this class was extremely helpful to me.  I wish I'd taken it much earlier in my curriculum at KRTraining.  

Before we even got out on the range, I already had to visit the bathroom due to bleed through and I was freaking out that I was wearing a white shirt and khaki duty pants instead of dark clothing.  Sure it was more compatible with the Texas sun standing out on that range all day but when I was bleeding like a stuck pig and had to navigate getting my pants down with a holstered gun without getting blood stains everywhere, especially my brand new Under Armour tactical duty pants, well let's just say I've never wished more that I was a dude instead of a PMSing chick in my entire life. And of course there was a line at the bathroom waiting behind me.  No pressure.  

Once out on the range, we went through drills again very similar to Basic Pistol 2, but there was more emphasis on technique and trigger management and reference to aspects specific to competition which was new material.  

One of the instructors actually noticed that my shoulders weren't even.  He said I hadn't been doing that before so I'm pretty sure it was due to the dislocated rib (the rib is out on my right side and my left shoulder was raised). I told him I had scoliosis and a bad back so he'd understand that I wasn't just jacking up my posture for shits and giggles.  He was really cool about it.  And I tried to stretch out my trap as best I could to get that shoulder down.

This was the warmest day I'd been out on the range, and I found that the heat made my palms really sweaty, making gripping my gun firmly a really challenge.  The longer I stood, the more my cramps increased, the more the blood flow increased, and by the end of the first session, I was really worried I was bleeding through but didn't want to leave the firing line early.

I've never put my speed belt through pant belt-loops, preferring to just cinch down the velcro tight against my everyday belt.  I've never had a problem with it.  But Saturday I was so bloating that I didn't cinch it down tight and Karl came up to me and said I had to fix my belt.  This was the first time in all my classes that he'd noticed I wasn't using a belt loop so it was obviously not tight enough and I'm sure my shirt wasn't staying tucked and at that point I really didn't friggin care any longer.  I was not in a good mood.  But I did what he told me to do and then had really bad problems getting my paddle holster and mag holders to stay put (they slid around) and going to the bathroom just became a comedy of errors.  I was not happy on so many levels. Obviously I am doing something wrong with my gun belt setup but I knew I didn't have the temperament to even ask for help that day.  Karl did try to help me as he brought it up again and I finally just told him I was having problems going to the bathroom so much because of my monthly and he just left me alone after that, bless his heart.  

Incidentally, when Karl told me I had to go fix my belt, I had just bent down to pick up my dropped magazines and my bra came unclasped. I'd apparently never worn a front closure bra to the range (and I never will again) and the movement trying to hold my belt in place and stoop over was enough to unhook it.   So I was standing there with my wrists to my chest to keep things from popping out in my fitted white shirt as the instructor was lecturing me about how my belt was not correct.  I'm sure I looked retarded with my arms up like that, but I didn't really have a choice. When he told me to go to Bay 2 and fix my belt I was thankful for that small miracle as it allowed me to fix my bra as well as my belt! If I'd had a sense of humor that day, it surely would have been one of much laughter, but alas I was not in the smiling mood. 

So now I'm standing there with sweaty palms so I can't get a good grip on my pistol, my back is killing me, my gut feels like it's been used as a punching bag, my belt isn't holding my holster in place, I'm worried I'm going to squeeze my arms together and make my bra pop open again and I'm freaking out that blood stains might be spreading in my nether regions for all behind the firing line to see. What happens next?  My electronic ear muffs start making these louder than hell long beeps repeatedly.  I figure my batteries must be getting low but the damn things keep beeping like 10 times, and I completely miss what the instructor has told us to do, did he say shoot at target A or target B first and then was it target 1 or target 2 after that, and how many shots go to which? So instead of focusing on "shot cadence" like I was supposed to be, I was just confused and distracted as my muffs continued to beep halfway through the exercise before completely going dead.  At that point I was just thankful they stopped blaring beeps in my ear, and the totally botched exercise over with, the damnable earmuffs!  

I had spare batteries and a screw driver in my range bag so I replaced the batteries right after class (and of course someone decided to start shooting again on the range while I was unprotected, perfect).  Then I ran to the bathroom for more menstrual triage and none too soon (luckily no stains in my pants thought).  Finally I had time to eat lunch and regroup.  But at this point I had used all my tampons and I had another full class to get through and my cramps were so bad they rivaled those of my early teenage years when I had to miss school they were so bad.  I was in pain and Advil wasn't touching it.

The second class was Competition Pistol 1 and we learned about the differences and requirements for USPSA, IDPA, Steel and other competitions. It was very informative and helped prepare me for what to expect if and when I decide to compete.  Since I just purchased (thank you, Jason!) a 5" barrel Walther PPQ, I figure it's in my not so distant future. 

The range work we did included: 5 steel targets in the Steel Challenge stage, 6 6-inch steel targets on a resetting plate rack, and two separated shoot house stages (one set to IDPA and the other to USPSA).  

Unfortunately, my performance on the range was the most inconsistent it's ever been.  One minute nailing everything perfectly and the next missing multiple targets multiple times.  It was the most frustrated I've been by far on the range.  So much was going wrong, that there were too many variables to troubleshoot and I finally just lowered my expectation to getting through the class without leaving prematurely (if my pants didn't bleed through that was) and without losing my temper.  

There was a sweet, sweet female student that ran to her car and gave me a spare tampon when I shared my women-woes with her so I was able to run to the bathroom midway through the second class for my final menstrual machinations at the range.  Thus I did make it through the class, and learned that I definitely prefer the USPSA and Steel style competitions to the IDPA style competitions which are much more restricted and scripted. The more open format without limiting the rounds in my magazines felt more fun and creative problem solving to me.

When I got in my car, it was the first time that I didn't call Jason excited to tell him how it went.  I just took the hour to decompress and chill and eat a Big Mac (you know I'm having a bad day when I stop and get a Big Mac). When I got home, I ditched the range duds, climbed into bed and I didn't get up until the following morning. Man, that sure didn't go the way I'd wanted it to.  

Out of all of it, I learned that I need to do more consistent dry fire practice. And I am in serious need of learning proper trigger management.  Tom Hogel, on of the instructors, has been trying to help me work on this, but I am really starting to feel like I'm retarded when it comes to how I'm supposed to press the trigger. It's clear to me that I'm yanking the hell out of the trigger and that I'm not holding a tight enough grip on my pistol grip, because Tom has stopped and told me so.  I very much appreciate that he's taking the time to stop and tell me what I'm doing wrong, but I don't feel like I'm actually understanding how to do it right.  

I'd started out doing dry fire practice daily after my first class with Karl but it changed after the conference mostly because my guns were dirty and I didn't feel like cleaning them and if I took them out to dry fire I'd feel obligated to sit down and clean them because I bought that expensive Sure Strike laser for dry firing and I couldn't very well insert it into a dirty gun.  So I avoided it.  I'm positive that my lack of consistent dry fire practice had a great deal to do with my inconsistency at the range on Saturday. While I'm sure that my hormones and my back/rib problems played a secondary role too, I know I'd have done better even with everything else, if I'd been practicing dry firing regularly.  On the other hand, if I don't know what I'm doing wrong with my trigger press, then dry firing incorrectly could cement the things I'm doing wrong and do more damage than good.  I'm really not sure where to go from here.

I don't have any classes scheduled with KR Training.  I have a Defensive Carbine class scheduled at in May. And that's it. It's probably a good thing though considering I didn't find last Saturday very much fun.  I'll wait until I'm no longer in the PMS parade, and see how I feel about just going to Reds and shooting a couple hundred rounds using the practice drills that Karl taught (well I can't draw from holster, but I'll be able to work on trigger management for sure).  

Jason also bought me a SERT gun this weekend, so I'll be able to practice still even when my gun is dirty from now on.  This man is truly a gem.  I am so very luck to have such a supportive spouse.  

I feel like I'm getting worse instead of better now and that pisses me off more than a little.  So hopefully I can turn that around quickly.  I hope so. Because if it stops being fun I'll stop doing it and I really did love doing this stuff until last Saturday.       

Monday, April 14, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online

I never played Skyrim beyond a day or two of game play because it didn't offer a co-op option so that Jason and I could play together.  Jason talked on and on about the game and played the livin' shit out of it when it came out so I was really looking forward to Elder Scrolls Online's release as it is an MMO version of Skyrim so we'd be able to play together again.

We've played it a couple nights now.  I like the look and feel of the game.  The character create was very fun to play with.  The tutorial was pretty straight forward although I definitely relied a lot on Jason to show me how to do things since he'd already played before I started. The quests are interesting and not grindy which is very nice.  The world is engaging.  Transportation makes sense.  Dying/rez is intuitive except for the soul trap thing that you don't realize you need to figure out until after you are sitting there over a corpse that is your buddy.  Ooops.

The crafting system is freaking awesome although since it's subscription based and not ftp/mtx (free-to-play/micro-transaction) based, it is a bit of a grind to save up resources to effectively gain the xp needed to craft something of true value. The combat and skills usage in-combat is simple and effective although I wish I had more than 5 skill slots active at one time. The skills management hud is not particularly intuitive at points as learning you can split an already selected skill to augment it isn't something that you see before it's available so you don't really know to plan for it..

I liked that I could buy more bag slots early on. And that I had access to buy an MTX horse early.  I don't like that I have to manually map my keyboard/mouse controls for each new character created.  I also don't like that I can't auto follow Jason when I need to go to the bathroom (he has to stop wherever we happen to be and defend me until I get back, stupid). I wish the bank and the merchants were located closer to one another so I am not running to and fro repeatedly due to poor planning.  I wish there were an auction house or a means to do micro-transactions so I can buy crafting components instead of harvesting them in-world because I don't have the hours and hours to play that others do. Maybe this isn't allowed to prevent a pay-to-win infrastructure, but I don't PVP so it just limits my ability to enjoy the game a bit. There is enough variety in game content to keep busy and not feel like anything is seriously repetitive, well, except for this one quest early on where you go around and talk to all these people all over town and you just want to jump off a cliff, it's so boring, and there is not action related to it at all. But other than that.

For most of the first 10 levels , I felt pretty over powered when paired with Jason, so it never felt like I was worried I might not make it through a fight successfully. Then we logged in one night to fight Doshia.  We had problems just logging in that night and that should have been the first red flag.  We were already grouped when we logged in which definitely seemed not right, and then we couldn't see each other's characters and our names were grayed out on our group list.  We both logged out and back in, even restarted our computers but nothing helped.  Eventually Jason figured out that he could right click and travel to me and that fixed the problem, so apparently we were not the same instance of the game.  But we're on the same server so it didn't make sense that we wouldn't see one another.  Something was clearly broken.

So later that night we get the Doshia quest and when we enter the instanced zone we're separated.  Since in some MMOs group members have to do instance zones alone, so we groaned but went about our separate instance fighting our way to the boss.  That's when things got ugly.  I am a tab targeter and Jason is a point and click targeter.  He has a heal.  I don't. He likes ranged attacks and complex positional combat. I like to open with big booms and then up close and personal  in-our-face melee  Our preferred game play styles are extremely different, and usually that doesn't mean we can't play together, in fact it works out quite well for us.

But my way of playing did not fair well with Doshia and I could not hit the orbs before she got them and healed or without her beating the ever living shit out of me.  It was retarded.  I died like 20 times and paid way way more on armor repairs than seemed fair.  Jason died a bit too but he finally prevailed.  Eventually he was hanging behind my chair watching me deal with Doshia and saying he didn't know what I could do differently, so I decided I was just so disgusted that I'd abandoned the quest and moved on so we could at least continue to play together.  Not long after that we ended up at a timed race quest. I'm not the most observant person in-game and Jason was running behind doing something else (it's usually the other way around) so I started the quest but didn't realize I was being timed so by the time I got my shit together there was no way I was going to complete the race in the allotted time. I failed it so I went back to the quest giver and tried to restart it.  Nope.  It wouldn't let me.  I was again dead-ended. It was the straw that broke the camels back. That night I learned a new term.  Rage Quit.

Yes, indeed, that was my reaction.  I was so pissed and fed up and disgusted with the fact that I'd felt over powered all this time and then to be placed in a quest that was basically not winnable the way I play and the way that I'm spec'd out, so I realized that I had probably FUBAR'd my character spec. When I looked at respecing, it was super expensive in terms of in-game gold (it's per skill point) and you have to travel to some high level zone to do it (which means I'd be killed by NPCs way before I could possibly reach my destination).  And I had no idea that I had spec'd poorly until then because I'd not been challenged at all with any of my quests prior to Doshia.  I felt like I was sold a false bill of goods, tricked and trapped, and now left with an irreparably broken character and would now have to start over with a new character at level 1.  Considering how little time I have to play with Jason, I was pissed, seriously pissed.  I walked away and had little interest in coming back.

The next day, Jason told me his co-worker told him that the Doshia instance was a group quest and we were just experienced the same zone bug we'd experienced when we first logged in and that he should have just right clicked and traveled to me again. Are   You    Fucking    Kidding   Me?  Since Jason had already completed the quest (so likely couldn't join me to win mine) and I was dead set that I needed to respec we decided to start new characters but that really just took the wind out of my sail (beside the fact that I'd opened all the one-time perks mails from my early buy and bound them to this character).

I've only played one night after that.  Really quite a bummer when I think about how stable this game is, how polished it is, how cool it seems on a lot of levels.  It hasn't crashed, not once, for either Jason or me since it launched.  That is virtually unheard of in a freshly launched MMO.  It's amazing actually.

Jason has had some issues with broke quest lines and has submitted trouble tickets but he's never even received an automated response back let alone a resolution for any of the problems he's submitted.  Not the most stellar customer service apparently.

Not sure if I'll go back and play but I'd better decide before my free 30-days is up.

Defensive Long Gun Essentials class experience.

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to take KR Training's Defensive Long Gun Essentials class.  This was my first formal class shooting my rifle.  I had only shot my rifle once before this class with a guy nice enough to hang out with my after one of my pistol classes to show me how to load and fire it.  Still I was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable handling and operating it when I arrived for this class.

Since I've taken several pistol classes there now and am getting into advanced coursework, one of the instructors mistakenly thought I was also experienced with a rifle and so he was holding me to a standard of someone with some rifle experience. After he barked orders at me a few times (he only did this because he thought I knew this stuff already and wanted to instill a sense of urgency in me since this was a defensive-geared class and I was falling behind) and I failed to comply repeatedly while the rest of the firing line waited, I finally just barked right back at him that I clearing didn't know how to do what he was telling me to do.  He immediately regrouped and helped/instructed me through the process I needed to learn. He totally apologized later stating he didn't realize I was a total beginner with a rifle.  It was super nice of him to stop and tell me that and I really appreciated it and it made me feel like they had taken the kid gloves off with me and that felt so awesome to think that I might actually be treated just like the guys. KR Training from my observation takes a softer approach when interacting with their female students which most gals probably really appreciate.  Me on the other hand, I just wanna be treated like one of the guys so having him take me out of my comfort zone like that was really very flattering for me personally.  

After that instruction I didn't hold up the class again (well, until my EOTech scope came flying off and the guy next to me on the line told the instructor and that stopped things again but I just tucked the scope into my duty pants pocket and flipped up the iron sights and I was good to go.  Halfway through the 3 hour class, my iron sights started coming lose too but I had a screw driver in my range bag and was able to tighten it back down. I learned from another student that I needed to invest in blue Loctite to lock the threads when tightening down anything on my rifle rails.  Lesson learned.  Luckily my EOTech wasn't broken either or that would have been a mighty expensive lesson.

My class was nearly half women which I imagine is pretty rare, and I wasn't the only novice; although, there were several students there that appeared to be quite familiar with their rifles/shotguns.  Oh, yes, this class allows you to bring whatever long gun you want (shotgun or rifle/pistol caliber carbine) so we had to wait while the shotties were reloaded but that was the only delay and frankly it was nice to be able to rest my arms while they did that. Another thing I learned is that you really need a sling for carbine classes because your arms and shoulders get a real workout holding that big ol' rifle in low ready through out a 4 hour class.  

Another thing I learned is that my fancy electronic pistol ear protection does not work for rifle target practice. I ended up having to put foam plugs in my ear canals because the butt of my gun kept kicking the thick earmuff off my rifle-side ear which would have been pretty painful if it happened while the gun was still going BANG! I have a pair of low profile lower-cost electronic muffs but I didn't bring them because I've been leaving them in my nightstand with my personal defense gun and honestly didn't realize there was a difference.  This wasn't something covered in my basic long gun class taught at the AG&AG conference unfortunately, but then again neither was the Loctite requirement on my rail-mounted rifle accessories.  

The class focuses on fast response, technique, and accuracy for relatively close quarter encounters (5yds to 20yds) with a long gun. Makes sense for a defensive class as you're not likely going to have a lot of 100+ yard defensive encounters (or even hear of them) as a civilian. I hadn't zeroed my sights or scope yet (I still don't know how to do that unfortunately) but even so I didn't have a problem hitting my targets quite accurately once I was taught the concept of holdover. Basically your long guns bullet trajectory is not a straight line (it arcs) but the line of sight targeting of your sights/scope is a straight line, so your target picture will only be right-on using the cross-hairs at two distances and the rest of the time you'll be too high or too low. If you know the distance at which your sights are zeroed and know roughly the distance of your target, you can adjust where you aim using your reticle to accurately place the intended shot at other distances.   

We learned how to properly hold and shoot our long guns, how to reload, how to properly present from cover, how to slice the pie with a long gun, why we need to be able to shoot our long guns's using either hand defensively, learned how distance plays a role in pivoting around corners/barriers, had an opportunity to clear the shoot house with a pistol-caliber carbine, learned to shoot from standing and kneeling positions from cover, and learned how to shoot quickly from high-ready and low-ready and when each technique is most effective.  I think we were supposed to learn how to clear a malfunction but I definitely don't feel like that was something I understood coming out of class (but then again getting everything the first time is pretty rare).  

I had a very positive experience yet again at KR Training.  I definitely get the impression that Karl is way more of a pistol guy than a rifle guy since there aren't a lot of rifle classes offered so I'm going to be trying other training outfits in the area to get more hands-on time with rifle work.  Unfortunately, most of the remaining classes I want to take for the first time at KR Training are scheduled while I'm in that other class, vacationing in England, or attending the National Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio.  I know there will eventually be offered again, but I panic when I think that won't get any holster practice in the meantime.  Most of the local ranges don't allow you to draw from holster, or to rapid fire which are two really critical skills to work on at the range.  I hope I can find a way to get more time doing this before those classes come up again.

Next weekend I have my last big weekend at KR Training scheduled.  I'm taking Handgun Beyond the Basics in the morning and Competitive Pistol 1 in the afternoon.  I so so love my Saturdays learning and shooting at KR Training.  It makes me week at work fly by just looking forward to my time on the range.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Defensive Pistol 2, AT-2 Force-on-Force Scenarios, and AT-A1 Low Light Shooting

This past weekend I attended 3 back-to-back courses out at KR Training.  Defensive Pistol 2 in the morning, Force-on-Force scenarios in the afternoon, and Low-Light shooting in the evening.

It was by far the longest day I've ever had at the range.  I got up at 6am to get out there by 7:45a.  And I wasn't packed up and to my car until 10:15p.  That's a LONG day!

The DP2 class was similar to the DP1 course, with additional complexity added in, in particular shooting from cover. It looks easy, but learning how to present around a barrier with a firearm while limiting how much of your body is visible to an active shooter is something you need to practice, a lot. KR Training recently built a shoot house in bay 3 so we had a chance to move and shoot clearing the house with paper targets, dummy targets, moving targets, and metal targets while trying to distinguish good guys from bad guys.  We each "manufactured" a double feed and learned how to recognize and clear it.  We also practiced swapping mags. Because I'd performed so dismally in my Simunition class at the AG&AG Conference, I'd practice for 3 straight nights during my dry fire time just dropping mags, grabbing mags from my belt, seating mags and racking the slid.  I actually broke a blood vessel in the heal of my hand the third night from seating a sticky mag too hard too many times and I ended up working with an injured hand on Saturday.  But my mag swaps were noticeably better on the line and Karl singled me out for the first time ever with a "Good!"  Woot!

The AT-2 Force-on-Force scenarios class was all about working through encounters with other people in dynamic (semi-scripted) roll playing with Airsoft guns. We were all outfitted in protective gear which KR Training provided along with the Airsoft guns themselves. Some were indoors and others were out in the shoot house. We learned additional skills like slicing the pie and understanding how angle and distance from the pivot point play roles in what you and the target can see in those situations. This work was very different because there were many variables to take into account and there were many potential outcomes with varying degrees of "successful resolution." In the dynamic scenarios, it was really shocking to find myself not reacting the way I knew I should react. I remember thinking, what the hell are you doing standing here, that dude is pointing a gun at that other guy, why aren't you running away and yet I stood there quite dumbfounded .  It was really eye opening to see how incongruent what I KNEW I'd do and what I ACTUALLY did really were!  This coursework was also really helping in practicing how to evaluate an encounter and to determine the level of threat, the type of threat, the appropriate reaction, and typical traps that you can to learn to avoid. We also had a chance to use improvised weapons and it was amazing to see how doing so could reset the OODA loop and buy you time. It was invaluable, all of it.

The AT-A1 Low-Light Shooting class is where we learned about the various ways to hold a flashlight with a handgun, how to use a flashlight in a way that made you less of an easy target to an active shooter, and also incorporated the use of cover and moving around barriers and even laying under barriers.  I'd never shot from a prone position before.  It takes some getting used to.  We also had a chance to clear the shoot house at night. At the end, I was so tired I had a hard time keeping disciplined to aiming well and pressing my shots instead of slapping the trigger.  In fact, my very biggest issue is definitely trigger management. I need to take time at the range and just work on this.  It really is the biggest thing between being a mediocre shooter and a good shooter.  The disparity of my dry fire work from my live fire work is growing because I'm not getting to the range to practice firing as much as I do dry firing.  Practice should be 5 to 1 I think they said.  But I'm not 50 and never doing the 1 until I take another KR Training class.

I'm really bummed because the courses I want to take next are all scheduled when I'm taking classes elsewhere, am vacationing in England, or attending the national writer's conference in San Antonio.  I'm a bit panicked that I won't be going to the range every other weekend so I may actually have to force myself to go out to a local range and do drills on my own like I'm supposed to be doing.  Dry fire is only going to take me so far.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Girl & A Gun Conference 2014

When I started on my quest to write a novel, I wanted a female heroine that was tough. Eve Dallas tough. But I didn't want to make her a cop so instead I decided she'd be a competitive shooter raised by an ex-spec-ops dad and surrounded by gun-totin' alpha-males growing up on the ranch where her dad made his living now, a tactical training ranch. Once I figured that out, I thought I'd done the difficult part, but I was in for a rude awakening.

There was so little online about what I needed to know for my book and even less related to women. So after a few ridiculous emails to dudes that actually work in those tactical training ranches (can you say "No Joy"?), it became clear to me that the only way I was going to learn what I needed to know was to do what I always do. Yep, you got it, I took a class and another class, and another class.

While I'm finally just now getting into classes advanced enough to be relevant to the things my heroine should know, what I've found, or stumbled into, is that this whole world that opened up for me is something that I truly love and I'm actually halfway decent at it too. 

Although I started off on the wrong foot, I eventually found a trainer that not only met my expectations, he exceeded them.  (Yes, that'd be Karl Rehn at KR Training).  And after my first day of training with him, I actually had the confidence to sign up for the AG&AG Conference up in Waco, Texas.  I didn't know anyone going. But that didn't stop me. 

It was the second annual conference and attendance TRIPLED this year.  Over 300 women attended the 5 day conference. Tiger Valley hosted the range portion supporting over 20 live-fire courses and the conference hall supported over 35 non-fire courses. There was everything from aerial gunnery (shooting short-barreled, suppressed firearms typically restricted to military personnel while flying in the same type helicopters the military and SWAT teams use) down to very basic entry level no-experience-required classes for those who'd never held a rifle before. There was truly something for everyone that attended.

I brought a box of parts I purchased from Brownells to one class and 4 hours later I had a fully functional AR-15 to take home with me.  All the tools were provided along with expert instruction, thanks to J.J. Schroeder from Brownells. J.J. even helped me after the conference to put together my tool order so that I could start with some high quality basic gunsmith tools from Brownells.   

I also learned how to prepare and operate a reloading press to produce my very own ammo by the gals at Barnes Bullets, Coni Brooks and Jessica Brooks-Stevens.  I didn't win the reloading equipment donated by RCBS, but that just gives me an excuse to put a progressive press on my wishlist!  (They used inert powder and strikers, allowing it to be performed in the conference hall.)  When I brought home the fired bullet "flower" keychain, my husband was so impressed with it that we bought some Barnes pre-made ammunition.

I also took a Simunition Simulator course taught by Tamara Shelley called Shooting and Moving which was taught in the conference center. Tamara did a great job of forcing us to swap mags in every single exercise we did. We students took turns recording one another as we each went through the increasingly more complex scenarios she had us work through and afterward reviewing my video, I was appalled at how long it took me to swap my magazines!  To my defense, all of the guns she provided were Glocks, and since I'm a Walther Woman, not a Glock Girl, I really struggled with the thumb mag release (yes, I'm a paddle-lovin' PPQ princess).  But that's for another blog entry.  It was a great way to learn without the added stress of live fire.  Yet another tool in the toolbox! 

Because of my classes with Karl and my late registration, I was a bit over-prepared for the track in which I was placed for range work.  But Vicki Kawalmacher (Women's Shooting Academy) and Tracy Hughes did an AMAZING job with the time they were given to teach those of us in the Purple Track. Tracy even had us running and shooting by the end of her class, and I was allowed to run and shoot one-handed with my secondary hand which was really difficult with Tiger Valley's aerial drone buzzing over my head distracting me at the time. I had an opportunity or two to teach some of the new gals things that Karl taught me and I can see the allure of getting into firearm instruction. Just seeing their faces light up when they learned something that helped them was awesome! I met a few ladies from the San Antonio chapter that basically took me under their wing for the rest of the conference. They made my solo-event into a social-event. Thank you, SA Chapter ladies!!  

I also took Karl's Tune Up Skills class but I didn't realize at the time that this was all going to be refresher material for me.  It was still worth it because I learned about the Tap Rack Training Aid by which I purchased when I got home. Now I can rack the slide while dry firing without it locking the slide open. Woot!!  

I won a pink MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load Equipment) backpack from Voodoo Tactical.  Walking around with it, I think if I still had my long blonde extensions I'd feel like "Tactical Barbie". But I seriously want to get the Voodoo Tactical MOLLE rifle case, already added it to my wishlist, although I'll get it in black, to match my range bag. 

My major splurge during the conference was the SureStrike laser dry fire training system. It adapts a firearm into a SIRT trainer (laser points when trigger is pulled),  It inserts into the barrel of the gun. LASR software can be customized to run different timed simulations and records your shot placement and shot time.  It comes with adapters for 9mm, .40ACP, and .223. I may have to buy a Glock since that is the only reset trigger kit they offer to allow you to pull the trigger multiple times.  I haven't tried it yet but maybe the TRT I bought will work with it?  I need t buy a USB camera for my computer so I can get this set up and try it out! 

I really wasn't sure what to expect from the conference, but it was such a positive experience that I already know without a doubt that I'll return next year as long as it's hosted some place warm.  Hopefully I'll be in the green track or maybe even the orange track by then!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My MAG-20 Experience

Invariably, when you bring up the topic of conceal carry or handguns training in general in social circles, the conversation circles around to the topic of "So what are you supposed to do in this situation or that situation?"  What if a guy with a vicious dog is running at you snarling? What if there is a guy in your backyard breaking into your shed?  What if some guy starts beating on your car window in a mall parking lot? What if your attacker is unarmed? What if there are more than one of them? What if? What if. what if.

Yes, it is important to think of scenarios and how you'd react to them, especially if you have your conceal carry permit.  But for me until a few weekends ago, the decision making for those situations was very abstract, nebulous and largely undefined.  And I'm not just talking in terms of what was floating around in my head on the subject but also in terms of the information shared with me by others, even firearm instructors. Whether spoken with vibrato and/or out of ignorance, the information I received outside of my MAG-20 class related to this subject was largely wrong. Dead wrong.

Coming out of Massad Ayoob's MAG-20 course, "A two-day, 20-hour immersion course in rules of engagement for armed law-abiding private citizens, emphasizing legal issues, tactical issues, and aftermath management.", I strongly believe that anyone with the constitution to conceal carry should at a bare minimum take this class.

This wasn't a class on the mechanics of firearm safety; although, that was certainly touched upon.  This wasn't a class on technique either which was also addressed,.  This class was, primarily and most importantly. about the psychology of shooting in self-defense, the mindset, the decision making, the criteria by which those decisions are evaluated, and navigating the very real and present dangers to yourself and your loved ones after you've acted to protect yourself and/or others. 

It's a topic rarely addressed. This is likely due to a number of reasons including: the diversity in the related laws established from state to state across this nation, the diversity in how various courts interpret those laws from one case to the next, a general lack of certainty/personal knowledge on the topic by those in a position to communicate it en masse, and the general social climate surrounding firearms today paired with concern of liability by inadvertently providing legal advice. However, it is understood by me, especially after taking this class, that it is ESSENTIAL that this be addressed in depth by ALL law-abiding people who carry a firearm for personal protection before they find themselves in an encounter requiring force. To not educate yourself is irresponsible.

While I cannot go into the details of what was specifically taught in this course, due to its proprietary nature, I can tell you that it has completely changed how I view personal self-defense.  It took me from a place of uncertainty where I was ill-equipped to protect myself effectively from a psychological perspective and moved me into a mindset of preparedness.  Ahead of me I have a LOT of classes to take and a lot of training to master to be where I now know I need to be if I intend to be both mentally and physically ready the way Massad Ayoob teaches.

I want to be safe just like everyone else does. After taking this class, I feel I've been given the tools to act as safely as possible in our dangerous world. Having that peace of mind is something you can't put a price on. Take Massad's class if you have the opportunity and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Borderlands 2 Resurrected

I don't seem to have as much time to game as I used to, what with trying to write a book and all the classes I take. Or it could just be that Borderlands 2 ruined me. Nothing really compares after having played that game. Hell, I even got out of a speeding ticket once because I said I was late for work because I stayed up so late gaming that I over slept. The officer asked me what game.  When I said Borderlands 2 he said he couldn't very well give me a ticket for that, issued me a warning, and muttered "I wish MY wife played video games" as he walked back to his squad car.  I loved, loved, LOVED that game and played the shit out of Maya. We did also play Warframe's open beta which was very very fun especially in large groups, but it wasn't something that I enjoyed playing solo.  Borderlands 2 however was something I could play with or without Jason, I loved it that much . The writing, the art, the game design, the balance, the weapons, the loot and it's co-op feature. Shit, it was about as close to nirvana as I've experienced in gaming.

To be fair, while working at Trion Worlds, I played a fair amount of Defiance too and really had a genuine blast playing that game.  Still not sure why it got such bad reviews, I think it tried to be too much to too diverse a group (trying to deliver a sci fi MMO shooter to both the console FPS crowd AND the PC MMORPG  crowd).  Funny how both groups complained about the exact opposite shit.  LOL

A while back Jason asked me to play Guild Wars 2 again, since we'd like playing it initially when it first came out. We did play it again and I got bored pretty quickly. So this girl that once adored MMORPGs and found Battlefield 2 to be mass chaos was now underwhelmed by the RPG and wanted more game-play action than simple key-mashing.  Hmmm, I wonder if target practice at the range for realz had anything to do with that? Prolly.

The problem for me now is that most First Person Shooters are PVP and I'm just not willing do deal with the ever-present 15 year old jack-ass that is going to following me around in game fucking with me once he finds out I'm a chick.  Nope, not happenin'.  So I wait for co-op shooter games to play with Jason and those are few.  Diablo III was awesome.  Borderlands 2 was legendary.  Some of the other games have "some" co-op content but Jason and I can burn through that shit fast which leaves with nothing to play.  So I just stopped playing.

Until last night.  Jason informed me that he needed reference of Maya doing her phase lock ability in Borderlands 2 and that he wasn't able to find any images online that weren't first person and he needed to actually see Maya. Which means....yep, you got it....I had to play Borderlands with him again. Unfortunately, he deleted the game off his gaming system but I hadn't off mine so I ran the patch and was in game last night. Steams says I had 92 hours logged on Borderlands 2.  That's a lot of time for me.  It was cool playing again.  I was just running around in the world, not questing or anything, but there was stuff to shoot. In a recent shooting class they were talking about the importance of muscle memory.  That point was illustrated to me when I was running along and monsters tried to gank me.  I didn't really think about it.  I turned and zoomed to reticle and shot, running backward, circle-strafing the enemy, reloading, and shooting some more.  I wasn't oh no, what key do I press, it was pure muscle memory.  Someday I want to be able to do that with my target practice with REAL guns!!!

Point is, Jason was able to get me back playing games last night using some excuse about needing art reference that was rock solid.  Of course I had to help him.  And since he didn't get it loaded and patched last night, we're going to have to play here again real soon.  Oh man that's sooo hard to take! LOL

I just don't understand why GearBox up in DFW isn't working on Borderlands 3 yet.  They need to get on that shit and quick!!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Formal Basic Pistol Training

Last Saturday, I attended my first formal pistol training.  I figured after going to the range four times with my friend, Becca, and subsequently going to a CHL class, that I should probably get some formal training before I developed any bad habits.  My hubby did the online research on local handgun training and registered me for a Basic Pistol 2 class at KR Training.

I'd felt pretty self-conscious at my CHL class back in October because of the way they treated us girls on the range.  Where the instructors were really friendly and talkative to the guys taking the class, they basically ignored us girls socially. While no one was inappropriate or mean, I certainly didn't feel welcome or encouraged to ask questions or take more classes.

Since I knew I wanted more instruction prior to sending in my application, I never sent in my paperwork to get my license.  I just didn't want to subject myself to the same treatment as my CHL class, so I basically stalled out and forgot about it.  Luckily Jason took the lead in finding another range for me to try out.  I'm guessing he knew how hesitant I actually was, not wanting to be treated like an outcast again on the range, so he signed me up and THEN told me about it.  Once I'm committed to something, I follow through.  He knows me well.

I wasn't sure I was qualified to skip Basic Pistol 1 but Jason said that since I got a score of 249 on my CHL range test after not having fired my gun in nearly 10 months, that he thought I was fine skipping to the Basic 2 class. I read everything I could on the KR Training website, learned about the A Girl & a Gun conference from that site, signed up for AG&AG membership, registered for the AG&AG Conference, read everything I could find on the AG&AG website, learned about IDPA and USPSA classifications from the AG&AG conference tracks, resulting in my signing up for IDPA and USPSA and NRA memberships as well.  At this point I was starting to grasp just how much I didn't know, and felt a little like I'd just grabbed the bull by the tip of his tail.  Still, I was committed, and once I'm committed, I follow through.  So I showed up one week later for my first formal pistol class.

The range (A-Zone Range) is about an hour outside Austin. My instructor was Karl Rehn (the "K.R." in KR Training).  There were 14 people in my class, and we were split up into groups of 7 for target/range work. There was a good mix of skill levels, gender, age, etc. among our student body.  The classroom portions were well thought out, formal enough to make sure all the information was covered and informal enough where you felt comfortable asking a question midstream if you needed clarification.  There were several assistant instructors that assisted in the classroom and range exercises. Every single representative I encountered at KR Training interacted with me and they all were friendly, extremely knowledgeable, safety conscious, passionate about firearms and equally passionate about teaching their knowledge to their students. They weren't dry boring classroom sessions either. I had fun learning even before we hit the range.

When we got to the range, safety was paramount.  Everything was organized, the instructors were easy to hear even with ear protection on, the exercises were very structured and administered with a great instructor:student ratio.  There was always someone right there when I had a question or concern or when I was doing something wrong. Corrections (every student made an error at some point or another) were done appropriately and with professionalism. In the Defensive Pistol class, where things were more stressful on the students, the stress was intentionally imposed on the students in an attempt to simulate (to a much lesser degree) the real-world stress of a defensive shooting scenario and the variability of such an encounter. The stress helped demonstrate to each student just how difficult a defensive shooting incident might be and what we need to learn, know and practice to be prepared and effective.

I came away from that day at A-Zone Range so happy, exhausted mentally and physically, with way WAY more knowledge than I expected to get in a single day, with a solid understanding of what I was doing wrong, how to correct those things, and a bunch of new skills and drills to practice, and with more confidence and passion for target-shooting my handgun at the range. KR Training truly exceeded my expectations all the way around. Not only did I learn a lot and have a great time, but they encouraged me to take more classes and made me feel welcome and valued as one of their students.

I am so thankful to Jason for finding this training for me and for the encouragement he continues to show for my joy of target shooting and firearms.  I'm hoping to take a basic rifle class next of course at KR Training.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Cycle of Pet Ownership

Shortly after I write my last blog entry, our GSD, Abby, took a turn for the worse.  The vet had taken her off antibiotics without doing a followup x-ray and within 3.5 days she was back in respiratory distress.  We got authorization then to see a specialist but by that time she was in congestive heart failure.  The vet didn't really know why she went into congestive heart failure.  Speculation brought up several scenarios for a cause but there seemed no avenue to determine the actual cause of the pneumonia turned congestive heart failure. Although the vet specialist seemed to want us to euthanize Abby once her cardiac status was determined, we requested that they drain the fluid around her heart to relieve the compression and have them look for tumors which they didn't find.  There really was no explanation to be had.  The vet specialist said it was likely hemangiosarcoma, a form of extremely aggressive cancer that attacks the blood vessels typically involving the spleen but also the heart, liver, lungs and other areas.  Within 3 days Abby was back to the earlier acute respiratory distress so, with encouragement from our vet, we had Abby euthanized.  Putting down any animal is tough, but putting down a dog that you love, that doesn't understand why you can't make them better, or what you're about to do to  them, well, that is pretty gut wrenching stuff. When you're unable to make them better, to help them, to act in any manner that has a positive outcome, it is extremely difficult to cope. And when you have to say goodbye to another living being, especially when its premature, you always feel robbed, for them and for yourself. I believe that you give a piece of yourself to those you love (human, dogs, whatever), and when they die they take that with them, a piece of you via the bonds of love. The emptiness we feel is intense after that kind of loss. We do our best to grieve and carry on. And with the case of dog owners, at least with me, for a split second I wonder why on earth I continue to willingly put myself through this cycle of introduction, attachment, love and loss with each new dog that I adopt.  But then I try to imagine living a life that isn't shared with dogs and, well, that doesn't seem like a life I'd enjoy very much. And so I cry and try to remember the good: the safe, secure, happy, loving home I was able to provide to a discarded/abused dog and the pure, simple, joyous companionship and love they shared in return.  Abby is not the first dog that I've grieved over and she likely won't be my last, but she sure does have a special place in my heart and in my memories.  What a special girl.  How much I adored her.  How very much I miss her.

And then we begin the process of filling out adoption applications to get pre-approved for our next rescue dog.  One with an entirely different story, different personality, different needs, different gifts but still with that same eventual offering of unconditional love and companionship and such appreciation for a soft bed, a bowl of food, good care and the love and security our pack offers in return.

I just wish they lived longer.