Monday, April 7, 2014

Quick Impression: 2013 Ford Escape SEL

I apologize for neglecting this space for the last six months. I've been busy with other things; and, frankly, I haven't had anything really review worthy to write about. So, in lieu of a full blown review, I thought I'd take a few minutes to give a quick rundown of the Ford Escape that AVIS bestowed upon me in Baltimore last week. I only had it for one night and a day for a grand total of 30 miles or so. Thus, the lack of experience upon which to base an in depth review.

Standard disclaimers apply: my money paid for the rental, my company is paying me back, FTC go soak your heads and eat a turd flavored donut.

Exterior Styling:
The Escape looks a lot better than it used to. I didn't get a chance to take pictures of it because I was too busy taking pictures of the first car AVIS tried to foist off on me (a Nissan Altima that had collision damage on all four sides). The Escape was redesigned for 2013, and Ford took a page from the redesign of the Focus and Fusion and applied it to the Escape. Gone is the boxiness of the 2012 and prior exteriors. I think it actually looks nice for a compact SUV. The only item of note on the exterior from my brief exposure was the keyless entry code numbers were moved from the door panel to the "B" pillar part of the door/window frame. Oh, and they are no longer buttons as they are touch screen like sensors.

Interior Styling/Comfort:
Whoever designed the AC vents should be taken out and shot. The seats were comfortable. Head room even with the sunroof was excellent for my 6 foot 4 inch frame. The telescoping and tilt adjustable steering wheel had the distinction of being the first steering wheel ever that I have been unable to control with my knees. The center console was nicely done and uncomplicated. Visibility was decent to the front and sides; however, the rear view mirror doesn't help much thanks to a small rear window and tall rear seat backs. Baggage space in the rear cargo area was quite roomy for the size of the vehicle.

It has an engine. I had no trouble getting up to speed on the highway. That's about I all I can tell you there. The best gas mileage I saw out of it, according to the computer, was 24.1 MPG on the highway. Frankly, that's disapppointing.

No issues to report. The ride was smooth for a small SUV.

That's all I've got for now. I wish I had had more time with it to give you a better review, but that will have to do for now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Initial Review/Range Report: Smith & Wesson M&P40 (/9/357Sig)

Cross Posted at The GunDivas

It's been a stressful few weeks. Between work, getting ready to be out of the office for work and personal travel, The Queen not feeling well, M&M needing her daily dose of Daddy Hawk, house work, cooking, shopping and generally failing badly at getting the sleep necessary to function as a normal member of the human race, I was getting ready to shoot something. Whether that something turned out to be an animate or inanimate object was rapidly becoming less of a concern to me. So, the other evening, I finally had a chance to sneak away from the house (actually, I just didn't return home as early as I otherwise would have) to visit the local range for the purpose of taking the new M&P out for its first official test spin.

So, before I dive into breathlessly describing how wonderful the M&P is or isn't, I'd like to issue my standard disclaimer and tell the FTC (who I hope are enjoying a restful Obamacation) that I paid my own hard earned, seriously value deflated dollars to buy this particular M&P. Smith & Wesson has no idea who I am and has not offered me any compensation or consideration for this review. So, go suck on your banana punk monkey. These opinions are 100% mine.

Alright, now that my libertarian tendencies have been mollified for a little while, let's get down to business.

Starting with the title of this review, you will notice that I am calling this the Smith & Wesson M&P 40/9/357Sig. The dirty little secret is that M&P saved a whole hoochie load of money developing this pistol by going big for commonality across the platform. The recoil spring is identical for all three calibers. Need proof? Go look up replacement recoil springs on Midway USA's website. Barrel dimensions are identical (a fact we will address in more detail in a bit) which means the slide dimensions are identical which in turn means that the frame dimensions have to be pretty darn close too. There may be (though I seriously doubt it) a tiny skosh bit of difference in the mag well on the 9 as opposed to the 40/357; however, the 40 mags are marked ".40S&W/.357Sig" (or vice versa depending on your perspective) meaning that the frame of those two calibers have the same freaking dimensions.

Now, reading the forums [fora?] (and even watching a few videos from manufacturer reps) you will find many a post that suggests that the slide on the 9 is not strong enough to hold up against the pressures generated by the .40. I've not come across any comment on the .40 slide not being strong enough for the .357Sig, but give it time. Someone will decide that the slides on the .357Sig MUST be stronger to contain the uber high specialness that is the chamber pressure of a .40 case necked to a 9mm bullet. Personally, I call el toro guano. I don't see Smith & Wesson making some slides "stronger" when they are toleranced to the same dimensions as other "weaker" slides when using the same (presumably...I'd be happy to hear a S&W rep confirm that) materials on the same manufacturing line. I'm no metallurgical expert, but I don't think it works like that.

Don't take my word for it though. Proceed at your own risk. Do your own research. I take no responsibility for your own stupidity for something you read on the internet from someone who is a self avowed non-expert in the field.

Here is my personal, anecdotal experience on the subject to close out this portion of the review. I bought the M&P40 as well as a 9mm replacement barrel. I can confirm for you that the 9mm replacement barrel was a perfect, drop in fit. 9mm ammo fed from the 40/357 mags without a hitch (including the last round despite what I've read from other noted internet experts on that point). The pistol fired and cycled the 9mm ammo without incident. I would not hesitate to attempt the same with a .357Sig replacement barrel. Your mileage may vary.

I'm not going to spend much time here on the aesthetics of the M&P. As polymer pistols go, I think it's a good looking pistol. The fish scale slide serrations are unique as well as functional. The black Melonite finish performs its intended function well enough and will serve as a good canvas for a custom coating should I ever decide to get around to doing something to set my M&P apart from the masses. The rounded grip is quite comfortable, and I had no problems hanging on to the gun even during moderately rapid fire (something between .5 and 1 second per shot). A texture job on the grips would certainly enhance that, but I don't see it as a necessity unless you were gifted with exceptionally sweaty palms.

As to safeties, Smith & Wesson wisely in my humble opinion took the “buffet” approach of offering a wide variety of options. Do you live behind the nanny state curtain? They have you covered with 10 round mags, magazine disconnects, thumb safeties and infernal (internal) locks. Do you live in free America where you are trusted to make decisions for yourself? They offer versions without the infernal lock, with or without the thumb safety, etc. My particular model is completely safety free (other than the odd trigger safety which is marginally okay). Call it a point and click model if you like.

From a concealability point of view, I have no problems hiding it in the appendix carry position under an untucked polo shirt. Bear in mind that I am 6'4" tall and heft about 240 pounds on the scale. So, petite folk may have a different perspective on this. Wearing it unloaded, "Mexican" style (as I have not found an AIWB holster for it yet that I like), The Queen did not notice the gun (she was not informed that there would be a CCW "printing" test) over the course of an hour or two. Even without a holster, the gun was comfortable (hardly noticeable in fact) and stayed put fairly well while performing normal household activity (I would try jumping jacks without a good holster). I have not tried it in the 4 o'clock IWB position yet; however, I don't foresee it being any more visible than in the AIWB position. In the 3 o'clock OWB position, I would expect it to bulge an untucked shirt just a bit. But, balance it with a mag carrier at 9 o'clock and it might not be an issue.

Function-wise, I only had time to run 70 rounds of .40S&W, 10 rounds of 9mm (including time for the barrel swap back and forth), and 47 rounds of .22 (through the Ruger 22/45 Mk III which was feeling all lonely neglected in the range bag). I had no failures to feed, fire or extract. The only function issue of any note was that the slide did not lock back after the last round consistently. As a matter of fact, it probably locked back less than 50% of the time. I didn't diligently keep track of the problem. So, I can't say how often for sure; however, it was definitely noticeable. Next range outing I try to see if grip firmness affects that or if there is a mag follower issue.

Speaking of the 47 rounds of .22 as a quick digression, it would have been 50 rounds but for these little treasures.


I've never seen anything like that in a box of factory ammo. Not even from a box of cheapo, Walmart, Remington bulk pack.

And, just for GunDiva, a picture of the target.


No, I didn't WANT to change the target. That's 47 rounds at 7 yards fired as quick as I could load mags and fire. It was *VERY* satisfying to use the .22 as a bullet hose. Not that I am suggesting that one should EVER skirt the range rules or anything. Fortunately, the dude in the next bay giving his girlfriend her first taste of semi auto (using a Ruger P94 in .40...after letting her shoot .22 and .38/.357 revolvers...with full power magnum rounds no less) and was going all bullet hose with his gat (he was nice enough…so, I won't call him nasty names here) giving me the cover necessary to have some fun unnoticed by the front desk.

Now, digression complete. Move along. Nothing to see here.

In an earlier post, I commented on the quality of the trigger pull. I believe I said something about broken glass. That issue is still there; BUT, I found it much less noticeable when actually focusing on the front sight with the intention of shooting something. Maybe I'm easily distracted. Who knows? That's not to say that I might not still have a trigger job done and/or splurge on an Apex trigger kit. I want at least 250 rounds (preferably 500 rounds) through it before I decide on any substantive changes like that.

A quick note on field stripping: it’s pretty simple. Remove the magazine, clear the chamber, use a tool to push or pull the lever in the mag well that disconnects the sear down, thumb the take down lever down, remove the slide from the frame, remove the recoil spring assembly and remove the barrel. Done. It’s as quick as stripping a Glock though the downside is that it’s not completely tool less unless you have a finger that can manipulate the sear disconnect lever (I don’t). Reassembly was equally unremarkable.

The sights are fine for their intended purpose. This is not a bullseye gun. The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage. For elevation, it’s either learn your hold overs/unders or get a different front sight post. Having said that, I’m 95% certain I will be replacing these sights with fiber optic replacements soon since my 40 something year old eyes don’t focus at arm’s length the way they used to.

Moving right along, let’s talk accuracy. My first shot at 3 yards was in the x ring which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t be that hard at that range. The remaining 4 shots out of my first string were inside the 10 ring (four in the x ring); however, the grouping is not as tight as I would expect of myself at that range. My next string of 15 (one full mag) at 7 yards was even less impressive.


I was aiming for the top 8. Other than that, I have no explanation for that pattern or the others that follow. I’d like to throw an alibi out, but I got nothing. It’s certainly minute of bad guy accuracy and will get the job done, but I’m just disappointed because I am used to getting most everything inside the 9 ring at that range.

Finally, the only thing left to talk about are some odds and ends. Recoil was quite manageable for me at least (especially after my recent experience with the S&W M325PD). The 147 grain subsonic 9MM ammo had less felt recoil than the 180 grain .40S&W ammo. Duh. No surprise there. It’s no .22 pistol, but you’re not going to have to worry about digging the rear sight out of your forehead either. No issues with the mag release. It did its job just fine. I was unable to remove the little frame mounted tool that lets you swap out the grip panels. I’m sure I was just not doing it right since I hadn’t bothered with reading the manual yet. The witness hole/loaded chamber indicator worked as advertised. No issues with the mags themselves other than the first round is sometimes a pain in the butt to get in if you’re not paying attention to the follower and the feed lips. Rounds 14 and 15 will be challenging for most people to load without the use of a mag loader which Smith & Wesson did not see fit to include. Some people swear by the Uplula’s, but I’m not sure that a stiff, thin piece of metal wouldn’t work just as good. I may just have to test that theory and report back.

So, to sum up, I like the gun. It fits my hand well with the medium grip insert, and I can shoot it adequately as is. There are things I would like to change and probably will. Is it as good as a Glock out of the box? Meh, maybe. Glocks have better triggers out of the box while the M&P has better sights and more options in addition to being better looking (IMHO). After typical modifications (triggers, sights, texturing), they are a wash from price point, reliability, and functionality standpoints. Glocks have a slight edge when you consider accessories and other ancillary items like the fact that there are carbines available that use Glock mags but none that I am aware of that use M&P mags.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Initial (and Possibly Final) Review: Smith & Wesson 325PD .45ACP

Cross Posted at The GunDivas

Those that know me well know I like guns. I like all kinds of guns. Big guns, small guns, wheel guns, long guns, shotguns, giggle switch guns, quiet guns, loud guns…pretty much any kind of gun will do. Okay, maybe not a Jennings or a Lorcin…maybe. I have a wish list of guns that runs fairly long, and today’s item up for review has been a longtime resident on my wish list. In fact, I’ve been looking for one of these for at least two years. It had become a bit of a Grail Gun for me in that it was only made for three or four years in what I can only assume are small quantities because I never saw one for sale (until recently).

I present to you the Smith & Wesson 325PD in .45ACP with a 4 inch barrel:

You won’t find technical specs for this gun on the Smith & Wesson website any longer as it is a discontinued gun. According to the Blue Book of Gun Values (the freebie info available without paying for the full enchilada), Smith & Wesson only made this model from 2004 to 2007 in two and a half inch and four inch barreled versions. It weighs in between 21 and 25 ounces. I assume (because I do not have a scale handy) that the four inch version is the 25 ounce “heavy” weight. This is possible because of the “airweight” scandium frame and titanium cylinder. Smith & Wesson has also done .357 Magnum (the 327PD) and .44 Magnum (the 329PD) versions. For reasons that escape me, the 329PD is still in production while the 325s and 327s are not.

The gun comes equipped with nice but not gorgeous wood finger groove stocks as well as a Hogue replacement should you so desire (…and, truthfully, you probably should). The sights are fully adjustable. The front sight is a HiViz fiber optic which you would have to be blind to miss. The rear sight is a simple, black V-notch. Since it fires the .45ACP cartridge, moon clips come as standard equipment (five, I think). It has the dreaded and much maligned Infernal Lock complete with two keys. Supposedly, the lock can be removed and the hole plugged; however, I have no plans to mess with it. I think it’s a completely stupid idea to have a lock on a firearm, but no one asked me.

The finish is matte black on the frame and barrel and matte grey on the cylinder. The only shiny parts on this gun are the trigger and the end of the barrel (which is just begging for someone to engrave “smile and wait for the flash” into it).

Speaking of the trigger, let’s talk about the important stuff now. Supposedly, the scandium framed PD models were Performance Center guns. I can’t find anything specific from the horses mouth to confirm that; but, based on the smoothness of the trigger, I believe it. I don’t own a trigger pull gauge, but I would estimate the single action pull somewhere between a loud thought and a quiet whisper. Seriously. It’s a Rule One violation waiting to happen. Do not put your finger on the trigger in single action unless you are really sure you want what’s in front of the barrel destroyed. My first two shots out of the box were high as I was not prepared for the trigger pull and hadn’t fully lined up my sight picture. In double action, the trigger pull is very smooth, controllable and predictable. I would estimate it somewhere in the eight to ten pound range.

So, how does it shoot? I have heard/read the recoil described as being “snappy”. Some have reported problems with ammunition backing out due to the recoil. Personally, I am not recoil averse. I have shot .44 Magnum from a Smith & Wesson Model 29, .357 Magnum from snubbies, .45ACP from 1911 platforms in several sizes, .45 Colt from a Single Action Army, 9MM and .40S&W from Glocks and other stuff besides. Point being, I am no stranger to major caliber handguns and their recoil.

Having said that, the 325PD is a different animal in recoil altogether. This is not a gun for a new shooter. Using standard 230 grain FMJ rounds, I would put recoil on par with or slightly more powerful than the .44 Magnum. A firm grip is a must. Limp wrist this gun at your own peril. Some people have said this is a gun you carry a lot and shoot a little. I can see why. The Hogue rubber stocks may tame the beast somewhat; however, I have not tried them as yet to verify that theory.

Accuracy is mixed based on my abbreviated range outing yesterday. I was able to run about 26 rounds through it at seven yards before I needed to be elsewhere. I am accustomed to one ragged hole groups at that distance using other guns. The first cylinder was shot in single action. Aside from the two learning curve shots mentioned above, the last four shots from this cylinder grouped well enough to ruin a bad guy’s day but were still high.

The next two shots were 230 grain, hollow point, self defense rounds (I can’t remember which brand as I type this). They grouped more to my expectation, and I would probably chalk that up to better quality control in the hollow point manufacture over that of ball ammo.

The last two targets were a mix of single action (two cylinders) and double action (one cylinder). By then, it was time to go. I was a little disappointed in the results; however, that may be attributable to the fact that it was a sauna in the range (I tried out an indoor range near my inlaws’ place that I’ve driven passed for years), and my glasses were steaming up from me sweating like a pig. That’s another story. Suffice it to say, Texans go to indoor ranges to get away from the heat. I won’t be back there for the range, but they did have reasonable prices on guns (I didn’t price their ammo).

Some final thoughts. For me, the fantasy of this gun was better than the reality of this gun. I had an idea in my mind’s eye of using this gun for IDPA competition. Unfortunately, the recoil using factory makes that a pipe dream without more practice than I can afford. I suppose hand loading a lighter round might make that feasible, but I don’t have the reloading experience nor the free time necessary to make that happen. Additionally, this is not a casual plinker by any stretch. This is a serious weapon for someone who wants serious firepower in a light weight platform.

My question is: who in their right mind buys the 329PD in .44 Magnum?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hobie MirageDrive Oasis Kayak Review

I am way behind on completing this review. I started writing it the week after Mother's Day, and here it is a month after Father's Day and still not finished. Time really flies when you are busy, sick and tired. Any excuse, here goes nothing.

This year, The Queen and I finally celebrated her first "official" Mother's Day. When I asked The Queen what she wanted for Mother's Day, her response was that she wanted a weekend of camping and fishing. Due to some complications, a weekend of camping was not in the cards. Efforts to arrange for a guided fishing outing also failed miserably. I never would have guessed that it would be so hard to get a fishing guide to take my money. Oh well. Such is life in the big city as they say.

So, Mother's Day Sunday found us searching for last minute options to get on the water and put a line in. Enter the marina at Lake Granbury. They have boats, kayaks and canoes for rent. Well...kayaks and canoes at least. They have boats which they have rented in the past, but the lake level is so low that they are not renting them out right now because they feel it's almost a guarantee that the boats will come back damaged due to people not knowing the lake and running aground. People like me for instance.  

So, our initial plan was to rent a canoe. That plan lasted until we saw a Hobie Mirage Oasis kayak on display in the marina pro shop. A kayak that you can pedal with your feet instead of or in addition to paddling it with your arms? Where do we sign up? We, of course, asked if they had one for rent. They informed us that, yes, they did indeed. Money was exchanged, and we were led water side where a bright red kayak awaited our pleasure. 

After a brief explanation of how everything worked, we were on our way. 

I should take a moment to give a brief disclaimer. With the exception of a camping trip with The Queen in 2005, the full extent of my canoe experience took place in Boy Scouts in pursuit of the merit badge. I had never sat in a kayak much less used one. So, this was virgin territory for me.  

While we are on the subject of disclaimers, let's get the FTC stuff out of the way. One of these days I will get around to writing a standard disclaimer for reference on all posts subject to noted exceptions. That day is not today. For the record, neither Hobie nor Lake Granbury Marina gave me anything for this review. I paid for the kayak rental out of my own pocket. My opinions are my own. Deal with it. 

You can go to the Hobie website ( to get all the geeky technical specs you want on the kayak. They have several models to choose from. Some are traditional paddle only models, but about a half to two thirds of the models are Mirage pedal system models. So, having directed you to the best source for minutiae, let's get on with addressing the things that I think deserve particular comment.

First, the fold down rudder system is awesome. Release a cord, and the rudder drops into place at the stern. Pull the cord, and the rudder comes out of the water tucking neatly out of the way. I have only one minor gripe about the rudder system. It can be controlled from the front or rear seat, and you need to be sure that the cord is released from its stays at both seats before it will raise out of the water. Found that tidbit out the hard way. The dual controls is nice because it eliminates the need to switch positions if you want the other person to steer for a bit. Also, it eliminates the need for one person to waste pedaling/paddling energy while the other person uses their paddle to create drag that turns the boat. It's a more efficient system all the way around. 

Speaking of efficiency, let's get to the Mirage system. There's a cool video on the Hobie website that shows you exactly how this works. Rather than tell you what it does, just go click the link above, watch the video and come back. I'll wait. You back? Good. Don't ask me how that works as well as it does. I don't know. Just accept it, and let's move on. The Queen and I used our paddles in very little. The Mirage system is that good. The folks at Hobie made it easy to stow the paddles on the gunwales of the kayak, and that's where they stayed most of the time. My one gripe with the pedals is that I never could figure out how to adjust them. Supposedly they are adjustable, but that trick eluded me. At 6'4" tall with a 36" inseam, the pedals were set way to close for me. I felt like I was ready to give birth. Let's just say I am glad that there is no video of my efforts. Having said that, after two hours on the water, neither The Queen nor I were tired from our efforts at cruising the lake for fish. 

Other cool items of interest. The back rests were very helpful to me in particular. The seat cushions were functional, but I wouldn't want to spend all day on one. The water tight storage compartment in front of each seat, while not huge, was spacious enough to hold some snacks, wallet, keys and cell phone. Hobie very thoughtfully included fishing rod holders just behind each seat on either side that were quite functional and easily accessible. There are cargo areas on the stern and bow deck areas complete with bungee cord cargo nets. The kayak is not stable enough to access the one on the stern while on the water. At least, not for me. The Queen had no trouble with the bow cargo area; however, she had the advantage of having it in front of her. 

The only major complaint I have is the price. These puppies are not cheap. New, the Mirage Oasis runs north of $2500 from what I have seen on the net. Used ones do not appear very often; and, based on the few I have seen for sale, they hold their value fairly well. BUT, and this is the key, "normal" kayaks from other manufacturers are available for considerably less at big box sporting goods stores such as Dick's, Academy and Bass Pro. So, it boils down to the classic value proposition. Are the neat little extras and the Mirage system worth the extra scratch. For an older fart like me who just wants to cruise the lake once in a while, you betcha. For a younger guy who wants to take on major whitewater, probably not. 

As always, your mileage may vary.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Tire Purchases

It's been a while since I've written anything here and for good reason. I've been busy. But, I've had a couple of experiences with tire purchases within the last couple of weeks that I thought might be educational. Everyone who drives a car needs tires eventually. So, one would think that there would be some healthy competition for those tire buying dollars. Allow me to share a couple of data points for your consideration.

First up, my experience with and my local Walmart Tire & Lube Center. My wife drives a 2007 Lincoln Navigator (we bought it used for a price substantially lower than they go for, don't get any ideas about our wealth or lack thereof) that sports 20" rims. Stupid me didn't price tires for 20" rims before buying the vehicle and had the equivalent of a minor heart attack and stroke when I set about pricing replacements for the skins that were already about half gone before we put 40,000 miles on them. had a decent price for a set of four Kumho Ecsta's in the right size that was about $4.00 to $10.00 per tire cheaper than any other store. I placed my order for shipping to the nearest store which happens to be in a decent sized suburb of a suburb of Dallas. What follows is my email to the store manager (suitably redacted to protect the guilty from alleging that I libeled or slandered them):

Dear Mr. Store Manager,

Please accept this in follow up to our telephone conversation a moment ago. I am writing to you to express my dissatisfaction with the service I received at your store yesterday. 

On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, I purchased four tires for my vehicle through the Walmart website. I received an email from yesterday at 12:54 PM confirming that the tires had arrived at the [Suburb of a Dallas Suburb] store and providing instructions for pickup. So far, so good. At approximately 3:00 PM, I called the auto service center at the [Suburb of a Dallas Suburb] store to confirm their hours of operation as I know they do not stay open all day as the store does. I spoke with a gentlemen whose name I did not get and explained that I received the above mentioned email and that I needed to come have the tires installed. I was informed that the auto service center was open until 7:00 PM, and I was not informed of any limitations upon when I should arrive in order to have the tires that I ordered installed. 

I arrived at your store at 6:00 PM which was the earliest I could arrive due to traffic and went to the auto service counter as instructed by the email received from I presented the email to the woman working behind the counter and explained that I needed to have the tires installed and get an oil change for my vehicle. The woman, whose name I did not get, informed me that I needed to the site to store area of the store to pick up the tires. This is in direct contradiction to the instructions on the email received from (see below), but not a huge concern. I again asked if there would be any problem getting the oil change and tire installation completed, and I was assured it would not be a problem and told to "...just talk to the guys."

This is where the service provided by your employees began to go off the rails. The site to store area of the store promptly located and brought my tires out from the back of the store. However, the tires were brought out to me on a flat bed cart with a "here you go" and not some much as a thank you or an offer to assist me further. I asked if I needed to take them to the service department or if they needed to do that, and I was told to take them myself. I'm not opposed to pushing a cart of tires; however, I am opposed to it being assumed by a customer service employee that I am okay with that or that my business with that employee is concluded. 

Upon returning to the auto service department, the same lady who had helped me earlier advised me to leave the tires at the counter and bring the vehicle up to see the service writer outside. I pulled my vehicle up to one of the two lube bays and waited. There was an employee working on another vehicle (later identified as [J]) who barely looked in my direction. Another employee (later identified as [L]) walked up staring at me like I was an alien and greeted me with "It's 100 degrees. Whatchu want?" 

Let me tell you, if the service was heading off the rails earlier, that greeting sent them hurtling off the cliff. 

When I explained my needs to [L], he responded that it was after 6:00 and they closed at 7:00. I explained that I was assured that the work could be completed by the staff inside. [L] proceeded to call [J] over at which point they engaged in a conversation in front of me complaining about the situation. I interrupted them and explained that I was the customer and that they needed to sort this out with the staff inside. 

[J] eventually instructed [L] to write up my service requests at which time we embarked on a 30 minute adventure in cluelessness. At first, [L] could not pull up the tires I had ordered on the hand held service writing tool. He asked me what size and brand they were which I told him. He showed me the hand held and said "Do you see any Kumho tires on here?" I pointed to the tires in the bay that had just been brought out from the service counter and told him those were the tires. After being repeatedly asked the tire size and reiterating that the tires were right there in the service bay [L] finally succeeded in getting the order written up with assistance from [C]. This, however, was not before I was briefly told that they could not install the tires which I had ordered because they were 20 inch tires. 

At 6:45, my vehicle was finally brought into the service bay for work after [L] made what appeared to be a last chance effort to discourage me from having the work done last night by saying that it would take a couple of hours to complete. I assured him that I was there until it was done at which point it appears that [L], [C] and [J] as well as an assistant manager whose name I never saw broke a world speed record for an oil change and installing four tires completing both tasks in just under an hour. 

One last thing, I was not offered the road hazard warranty which I would gladly have paid for in light of an upcoming road trip. I would still very much like to purchase that coverage if it is not still too late and you can tell me how to accomplish that without a repeat of yesterday's poor customer service. 

Finally, at no time was there an apology or a thank you for your business or a have a nice day. To be fair, I was no longer a pleasant person to deal with by this point, and I just wanted to leave. However, I challenge you to remain calm and polite after the preceding experience. 

In closing, I would strongly urge you to address the customer service provided by your employees. I know my business means exactly nothing to Walmart as a corporation; however, I would hope it means something to a store manager who has goals and objectives to meet.
I will sum up this sad tale by relating that an assistant manager with the store did get back with me and arranged to meet me at the store to take care of the road hazard warranty purchase. That was another exercise in frustration for both me and the assistant manager lasting about an hour. In the interest of full disclosure, the assistant manager paid for the cost of the warranty ($40) and charged it back to the store as a good will gesture despite my protests that I wanted to pay for the warranty myself and only wanted the poor service addressed so that others would not have the same experience. I acquiesced in the end and accepted the peace offering in the spirit in which it was intended.

Now, moving forward to today's experience. A few weeks ago, I had noticed a wobble developing in the front end of my aging Nissan Maxima. It's a 2000 year model with over 335,000 miles on it (I like to get my money's worth...what can I say). The original struts were still on this thing and had long since ceased being useful for much of anything; and, so, I inquired of my cousin the mechanic as to the possible source. He suggested tie rods or ball joints as the possible culprit. We had been planning on him coming by to address the front struts already. So, I just treated the car gingerly and waited for the parts to arrive so we can delve into the subject a little deeper. Yesterday, everything was in place and cousin B came by to do the work.

Lo and behold upon removing the front tires, we discovered this:

That wasn't there in April when I did the brake job.

So, I jumped on the iPad and began the search for a set of new shoes for the Maxima. Within about 10 minutes, I had located a set of Yokohama YK580s on the Discount Tire website for a reasonable price. The website indicated that my local store had 8 tires in stock, ready to go. I was able to select the tires and schedule an appointment for this morning at 8:15 AM in short order, and I went back to kibitzing with the cousin while he wrenched on the front struts.

When I arrived at the store this morning at a little after 8:00 AM this morning, the three counter guys were helping other customers. I only had to wait a few minutes until one freed up. He immediately addressed me by name before I had even approached the counter or as much as said "hello" (there is something to be said for 1) being expected, and 2) a customer service rep being observant). He had my car pulled into the service bay in less than five minutes, and I was told that it would be ready in about 15 minutes. It would have been done in that time too but for the fact that the passenger rear tire had a frozen wheel stud that refused to let go (and I had already broken off one of the studs in April). They can't let it go with only three studs and don't have the parts to fix it on the spot (both understandable points on their part).

So, I have a little work to do this evening, and I will get the last tire installed tomorrow. Even with that, I was out the door and on my way to work by 8:30 AM. Everyone at the Discount Tire store was courteous and professional. They knew what they were doing, and they did it efficiently without fuss. I was so impressed after my dismal experience at Walmart that I sent a customer feedback email from the Discount Tire website praising them.

So, in closing, Discount Tire is covered in awesome sauce. Walmart is not so much. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Initial Review: Ruger 10/22 Deluxe Sporter .22LR Rifle

Cross Posted to The GunDivas

Though not a true BUG (buy a gun) Day purchase, I may or may not have recently (within the last couple of months) acquired a new addition to the gun locker at Castle Erickson. More specifically, that acquisition may be a Ruger 10/22 Deluxe Sporter .22LR semi-automatic rifle. It might have been acquired via private sale using cash in a deal arranged through Texas Gun Trader that could have been mutually beneficial to the parties involved while simultaneously and symbolically giving the Federal .Gov the uni-finger booger flinging salute for having the temerity to think that they can infringe upon the God given rights of free people.

I say this tongue and cheek given the current nuttiness Congress is pursuing with respect to gun control. I realize that we have passed the hurdle of DiFi's thinly veiled attempt at registration/confiscation and the Manchin/Toomey backdoor reach around "compromise"; but, if you really think the fight is over, I have some other very attractive proposals to sell you courtesy of the Nigerian scammers who have been stalking my Craigslist ads.

Seriously though, for FTC disclaimer purposes, I received no compensation or consideration whatsoever from any source for the opinions you are about to receive. The FTC can refer to the uni-finger salute referenced above.

Now that that's out of the way, what else can be said about the Ruger 10/22? It's probably the best selling .22 rifle in America if not the world from the humble and robust carbine version to their heavy barreled target version not to mention name brand and home built custom rifles using the 10/22 action. A lot of ink has already been spilled and pixels burned on the 10/22. So, what's a few more pixels?

First off, let's discuss my qualifications to offer up my opinion. I have a keyboard, a brain and an overdeveloped sense of self worth. I shoot guns for fun. I've never won a shooting competition, hunted extensively, been employed by the firearms industry or taken professional level training courses in shooting. In short, I'm your typical recreational shooter with an hair brained idea and an internet connection.

Next, why go for the deluxe sporter version when you can pay less and get the carbine (which is actually the same action, sights and barrel with different stocks) or pay more and get the target version(which has the same action and sling swivels with a heavier barrel, laminated wood stock and no iron sights)? To answer that question, I need to break the rifle apart into its components and discuss my impressions and thought process. Along the way, I will bring in comparisons to the Marlin Model 60, the 10/22 carbine version and a custom 10/22. So, where do we start?

Let's kick this off in earnest by looking at the stock. In the Ruger 10/22 family, you have a range of stocks. The carbine version comes with either a black synthetic or hardwood (Birch or Walnut depending) stock which has a barrel band. The synthetic stock has some checkering in the grip and fore end areas while the hardwood stock has no checkering and a metal butt plate. I have some experience with the hardwood carbine version as my mother has one. The finish of the hardwood is actually quite nice for a "entry level" rifle; however, the lack of checkering and the way my hands sweat in the Texas heat argued against the hardwood carbine version. I further eliminated the synthetic stocked carbine due to the barrel band which I find aesthetically displeasing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the target model uses a black or brown wood laminate stock which also lacks checkering but includes sling swivels already installed. I'm not a huge fan of the look of laminated woods as I prefer the natural grain pattern of the wood. Having said that, I wouldn't mind having one eventually; however, this go round, I really wanted a rifle with iron sights as opposed to being limited to only using an optic.

The takedown version is kinda neat, but suffers the affliction of the barrel band. The compact version is too small for me. The tactical version is too...tactical for me. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against black rifles. My buddy has a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 which is a hoot. I just didn't want one at this point. I wanted a simple, lighter weight, wood stocked rifle with classic lines and some decent checkering that would be accessible to new shooters (thinking ahead to the day when I can introduce M&M to shooting) and not intimidate.

Enter the deluxe sporter. The deluxe sporter has a nice American walnut stock with cut checkering as opposed to pressed checkering. What's the difference? The easiest way to demonstrate the difference is to show you.

Here is the cut checkering on the 10/22 deluxe sporter:

Here is the pressed checkering on the Marlin Model 60:

The cut checkering is crisp and provides me with a very positive grip on the stock even with sweaty paws. By comparison, the pressed checkering on the Marlin is definitely less crisp and grippy which is to be expected since it is effectively the reverse of the Ruger's checkering; but, it is functional in its own way. My personal preference is the cut checkering.

There is one other minor difference in the sporter stock. Namely, length of pull. The sporter has a length of pull of 13.88 inches versus the 13.5 for the carbine, 12.75 for the compact and 13.75 for the target. While that may not seem like a huge variation to some, it is a discernible difference to me with my wingspan. The carbine feels like a Daisy Red Rider in my hands whereas the sporter feels a little more like a "real" rifle.

So, we've established that I think the sporter stock is pretty and I can get a good grip on it. My exemplar exhibits excellent workmanship with more of a satin stain finish to the wood as opposed to a gloss finish. I like either finish depending on the application, and the satin finish is fine in this instance.

Okay, enough about the stock. To each their own. I like this one.

Let's move on to address the elephant in the room: The Trigger. It is heavier than I would like it to be for sure; however, it is consistent, predictable and relatively smooth for a stock trigger. It is non-adjustable short of the tender, loving mercies of a gunsmith or a Dremel if you are so inclined. For comparison's sake, it feels very similar to the Rock River Arms single stage "mil spec" AR trigger if you've ever messed with one. Maybe a tad lighter on the pull, but the take up is fairly short followed by a heavy pull to get to a crisp break while giving no hint of grittiness (to my touch at least). Once you get used to it, one hole groups are possible at close range (as evidenced by the photos to follow); however, having said that, I definitely want a lighter trigger. I am debating a replacement with Kidd and Clark replacement kits in the leading contender slots.

While I did not have a carbine model on hand for a side by side comparison, I will go out on a limb and say that they are identical. Based on other reviews I've seen, I believe the target model gets a better trigger. Maybe one day I will get to verify that. My buddy has a custom 10/22 with an after market trigger that was very smooth and extremely light by comparison. I did shoot both side by side and going from the heavy sporter trigger to the custom aftermarket trigger was eye opening to say the least. I cooked the first shot off early because I wasn't expecting how light it was. He didn't know which brand it was since he had it built for him by another friend who put in a spare trigger "he had laying around" (must be nice), and there were no marks on the outside to give me a hint. It was a straight instead of curved trigger shoe. That's all I can tell you.

For what it's worth, I think the stock trigger in the Marlin 60 beats the stock trigger in the 10/22 sporter. Personally, I think this is stupid and borderline moronic on Ruger's part. When you shell out extra money for an "upgraded" model that costs at least twice what a competitor's model sells for, you should get a better trigger. I'm just sayin'. One man's opinion. Then again, people like me keep shelling out cash for these things knowing full well we are going to have to tinker with them to make them the way we want them. Who's the stupid one now?

Just to respond to the trolls and haters real quick: if I'd wanted another Marlin Model 60...I would have bought another one (or a model 795 for those like me that prefer the detachable as opposed to tube magazine fed option). There's nothing wrong with Marlin 60s. I have one. I didn't need or want two of them. Besides, the 10/22 satisfies my need to tinker.

Moving on, let's talk about the sights. The front sight is quite nice in my opinion. Gold bead post dove tailed onto the end of the barrel. Don't like gold bead sights? Push it out and insert one of your choice. The rear sight...weeellll.... It's's's no worse than any other rear sight installed by manufacturers these days. It's adjustable for elevation (albeit not easily) but not windage. Drifting the front bead in the dovetail can address windage as necessary. It's on the list of things I'm going to change on this rifle as soon as I can figure out what the best aperture sight option is. Seriously though, the rear sight is perfectly adequate for Sunday plinking and casual target work. Spend enough time with it, and you'd probably be able to get it to bark like a dog and impersonate a feral cat. And you can teach a pig to sing eventually too. It's just not the best use of your time and money.

The good news is that Ruger spends to time and money to drill and tap the receiver for a Weaver mount. The rifle is supposed to come with one. Since I did not obtain mine new, I had to go buy a Leupold Weaver mount which was very reasonably priced at $8.00 at Academy. That means mounting a scope is relatively easy. Which I already did. It works like a charm.

So, a word about accuracy: pretty darn good. During the first range outing, I zeroed the rifle at 25 yards with CCI Stinger ammo (32 grain hollow point smoking along at 1650 feet per second) to get it on paper and function test it. First shot of a rest with a Hawke 3-9 x 40 AO scope was about eight and a half inches low but mostly centered horizontally. After dialing in about 140 clicks on the scope, shots were going where they were supposed to be.

I had five flavors of .22LR ammo in my range bag to play with, and I did what any self respecting gun geek does and started testing to see which one was the most accurate. Now, some people may quibble over whether to clean the barrel between groups to obtain the most accurate results. I had neither the time nor the patience to clean the gun that many times in one range outing. Besides, my philosophy is that a dirty gun is a happy gun and real world accuracy is going to deteriorate as you shoot so it's better to know how it shoots when it's fouled anyways.

Let's a take a look at the groups from worst to best. These are five shot groups, shot from a rest at 25 yards with something like a second or two or however long it took me to get comfortable with the sight picture between each shot.

Winchester Super X 40 grain bullets at 1300 feet per second. I picked up a 100 round box of these at Academy back in February before .22 disappeared from the shelves completely. To say that I am disappointed in their performance is an understatement. Seriously, it didn't group. It patterned. It did worse than Remington and Federal bulk pack ammo, and that's saying something. it may function well in other rifles, but this one consistently shot a 4ish MOA group with this stuff.

Remington Gold Tip bulk pack ammo. These are leftovers from a pack I bought at Walmart or one of the other big boxes ages ago. It's been so long, I don't even have the box anymore as the bullets have been moved into old plastic 100 round boxes. These are probably 40 grain bullets in the 1250 feet per second range based on Remington's website (though they could be 36 grains at 1288 FPS). True to my prior experience with them, my one dud round for the day came from this batch. It had a good, strong primer strike on it but no bang. Just under 4 MOA for this stuff is about all you can expect because of the consistency issues in the ammo.

Federal bulk pack that was old before I inherited it from my grandfather. I have no idea when he bought them, but it is probably from the same lot that I used when he taught me to shoot over 30 years ago. I've never even seen the original packaging for this stuff. So, I am guessing these are Federal Champions in the 40 or 36 grain weight in that 1200 to 1300 FPS sweet spot that most .22 ammo seems to fall within. Again, performance is as one would expect with bulk box bullets.

CCI Stinger 32 grain moving at 1640 FPS. These were my favorites coming into this range trip.  Truth be told, I'm a big fan of CCI rimfire ammo. But for a called flyer due to lack of focus and yanking the trigger, the Stingers would have turned in a one hole group (I actually did get a one hole group with them earlier before I started shooting for groups). I love this stuff, and I can't wait until I find some for sale somewhere soon.

CCI AR Tactical 40 grain round nose at 1200 FPS. This was the surprise of the bunch. CCI markets this stuff as being suitable for the current crop of AR pattern .22 trainers. Whatever. I have no idea what makes this stuff ideal for AR pattern .22s that other 40 grain/1200FPS bullets don't have; but, then again, I'm no marketing genius either. Technically, this is "bulk pack" ammo since it does, in fact, come loose in a box of 375 rounds. Performance though was no comparison to the Remington, Winchester or Federal offerings. It does shoot a 1/2 inch to an inch lower than the Stingers at 25 yards, but that's due to the slower velocity. But who is going to argue with .87 MOA from a mediocre shooter using a new rifle? This is my new favorite plinking round, and I will be buying more as soon as it appears on a shelf near me (or not so near if the shipping cost is reasonable).

So, what is my overall impression of the 10/22 sporter? Good...borderline excellent. In terms of accuracy, it shot at least as well as my friend's full custom 10/22 though his admittedly has a nicer trigger. It offers some advantages that the Marlin 60 and Marlin 795s do not possess (namely easier scope mounting, better grade stocks, better after market support, etc.). Is it worth twice what the Marlins go for? It depends. For the same money I spent to get the 10/22, I can get a Marlin 795 AND all the tweaks to get it to where I want it to be AND several boxes of ammo (even at current prices). So, from a strictly dollars and cents value proposition, the answer would be no. From an overall aesthetic, quality and feel point of view, I take the Ruger every time. It feels better to me. It feels more solid and rugged to me. It looks better to me.

At the end of the day, that's what's important to me. Your experience may vary.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Comparison Review: Otter Box Defender and Otter Box Commuter

Originally, I was planning on writing a car review for this posting because everyone seems to like the car reviews, and I just so happened to be going on a business trip last week involving the rental of a car for a dizzying day of driving in Houston traffic. So, me and my business associate landed at Hobby Airport on Friday morning after both surviving 4:30 AM alarms to catch Southwest Airlines flight 1 from Love Field in Dallas. Awaiting me in my email inbox upon landing was a nifty email from Avis telling me that my Mazda 5 Sport VAN was waiting for me at space A25. 

I had no idea there was such a thing as a Mazda 5 Sport Van. I mean, seriously? A COMPACT minivan based on arguably a midsize sedan chassis? Who knew?

So, before moving on with the review that I am actually going to give you today, I will sum up my feelings on the Mazda 5 Sport Van as succinctly as possible since there is no way I am going to spend an entire post waxing poetic about this vehicle for bad or worse. 

In short, Mazda must be playing an epic prank on the car buying public. First, there is nothing remotely sporty about the Sport Van. I've seen turtles that looked sportier, and they were faster to boot. The only van in history that can remotely be considered sporty is B.A. Baracas' van from The A-Team. Maybe the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. Maybe. Second, I know plastic is cheap, but do you have to remind us by making it LOOK cheap? Third, I was so underwhelmed by the level of strange involved in a SPORT COMPACT MINIVAN, that I didn't even bother taking photos for posterity. Unless you are a soccer mom who can't afford a decent used Windstar or Town & Country and just have to get a cheap minivan, I'm thinking you have better things to do with your money. 

Thus endeth the rant about the Mazda 5 Sport Van. 

Just so you know, that was a total non-sequitur to today's actual review which is, as mentioned in the title of the post, a quick and dirty comparison of the Otter Box Defender and Otter Box Commuter cell phone cases for the iPhone 4S (since I am not yet due for an upgrade to the iPhone 5 at work yet). 

First a brief history, I drank the iPhone Kool-Aid many moons ago (in tech years that is) with the iPhone 3G. I never much bothered with a case for my prior cell phones, and I didn't see much need to start with the iPhone. A co-worker had a snazzy looking, leather, belt clip holster for his iPhone. Being somewhat conscious of the amount of money I spent to enslave myself to the iLeash, I thought I'd give the case a whirl. 

In short, that holster has been collecting dust for far longer that it ever saw use. I'm just not partial to having things on my hip that don't go bang. My solution: slide the iCrackPipe into a pocket and go about my business. That solution stood me in good stead for the most part. Yes, I did drop the phone from time to time. Yes, the phone picked up a few dings and scratches as a result. No, it didn't break. 

Fast forward a few years. The new job hands me a new iHeroin 4S with an iPad speedball chaser, and I merrily go about my business employing the usual habits that have worked so well for me. Barely a month into the new job, I go to put my iOverLord in my pocket before heading into the gym for volleyball when the phone catches on a wayward string securely fastened at both ends of the pocket. Now, the new iPhones are slick. The forward momentum of my hands was apparently too much and overcame the pathetic traction my fingers had on the phone pushing it out of my grasp right onto solid concrete. 

One iBong screen shattered.

Oh NO!!!!

The IT guy was cool about it though. He had me a replacement by mid afternoon the next day. There was some strong hinting that a case might be in order. A lot of the folks in the office used the Otter Box Defenders while one used the Otter Box Commuter. After a brief interlude with another brand of case, I finally broke down and ordered Defenders for both The Queen and I (as The Queen made a royal decree that her Royal Highness must not be deprived of iFruit a moment longer). 

A few quick clicks at Amazon, and two Defenders were on their way here. 

A quick side note here about Amazon. It pays to be observant of the seller. The Defender I bought for me came from one seller while the one purchased for The Queen came from a different Hong Kong. I mention this as the quality of the two Defenders is dramatically different, and I suspect that The Queen's Defender is a Chinese made knock off. 

The Defender can best be described as "robust". It utilizes a hard plastic shell around which a rubber case is stretched for grip and some shock absorption. Some people I have talked with expressed complaints about the difficulty they had getting their cases apart and put back together. I didn't have that problem, but I can see how some people might not "get it" at first glance. The Defender is also delivered with a hard plastic belt clip holster. The belt clip can be rotated a full 360 degrees. It is a little stiff though, and it sounds like you are breaking the clip when you adjust it. 

Another quick note about the belt clip. I'm not sure if this was by design or by coincidence, but the clip can be latched open. I'm not sure what purpose this would serve, but I discovered this feature when I accidentally dropped the phone after it snagged on something and was pulled from my belt due to no grippy by the clippy. 

Incidentally, an iPhone in a Defender case does bounce a little, but it didn't shatter. So, it's all good. 

The last thing I want to comment on about the Defender is the rubber case. It affords excellent grip even with sweaty palms and fingers. The downside of that excellent grip is that, if you are accustomed to dropping your phone in your pocket as I am, it interferes with getting the phone in and out of a pocket. 

So, after a few weeks of carrying the Defender around both with and without the plastic belt holster, I got frustrated with it. With the holster, it just felt awkward to me. Without the holster, I was constantly having to shove my pockets back in. 

Well, enough of that noise. The nets were cast again, and lo and behold the Otter Box Commuter arrived here at the house. 

The Commuter is essentially a slimmer version of the Defender in reverse. By that, I mean that the rubber part on the inside with a plastic case on the outside holding the rubber part in place. 

Here again, the one other user of the Commuter that I know expressed frustration with the ins and outs of getting the case on and off. As before, I didn't have a problem. 

The hard plastic case of the Commuter does not cover 100% of the back and sides of the phone. It leaves plastic off from the obvious places such as the camera and the volume buttons. This allows the user to have some grippyness to hang onto. The hard plastic shell provides adequate protection from drops ('cause I seem to have developed a case of the butter fingers) and allows people like to me to get the phone in and out of pockets without dumping the contents of the pocket on the floor. 

The one thing the Commuter lacks that the Defender does not (which I consider to be a feature instead of a bug) is the belt clip holster. If you want to feel like Batman with a bunch of stuff hanging off your belt, knock yourself out. I prefer less stuff on my belt unless it goes bang.

Summing things up, both the Commuter and Defender offer good to excellent protection against impacts and drops. They come in a variety of colors. If you are looking for one at Walmart or Best Buy, expect to pay between $35 and $40. Searching online will yield prices ranging from $18 (what I paid) to the mid $20 range. I was able to get free shipping on my order from Amazon since the total was over $25. 

If you are looking for a good cell phone case, I would not hesitate to recommend either one depending on your preferred method of carrying a phone. 

FTC Disclaimer: I used my own money to buy these cases. No one at Otter Box or Amazon gave me anything for this review. So, go bother some investment banker. Better yet, go investigate the .Gov for operating a Ponzi scheme.