A Geek With Guns

Discount security adviser to the proles.

Archive for the ‘General Hardware’ tag

Everybody is In On the Surveillance Game

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This has been a bad week for my laptop. Last week my battery gave up the ghost. On Sunday the hard drive died. Finally on Monday the spare hard drive I swapped into the laptop committed seppuku. Since the hard drive I dropped in on Sunday night was my last spare drive I had to make a trip to the local computer parts emporium to acquire another one. While searching through the hard drives I came across something rather funny:


That must be Western Digital’s National Security Agency (NSA) edition hard drive.

Also, as a side note, when it comes time to choose a name for your laptop don’t choose Loki. Just throwing that out there.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am

Another Problem Easily Avoided By Not Wearing Skinny Jeans

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Apple made a major design oversight with its latest iPhone. It seems that the phone does not get along with skinny jeans:

It was only a matter of time before the monstrosity known as the iPhone 6 Plus started causing problems. Today, word is getting out that the 5.5-inch phone may be vulnerable to unplanned situational curvature.

In other words, the phones are bending, and they’re not supposed to bend. They bend because people are putting them in their pockets, then sitting down, which is a reasonable thing to do. Call it Apple’s #Bendghazi, if you will. Or #Bendgate

This entire fiasco is pretty funny to me because I wear tactical mall ninja pants. My pockets are literally large enough to stuff .308 magazines into. There’s so much extra room in most of my pockets that I can sit down comfortably with .308 magazines stuffed into them. Nothing presses tightly against my skin and therefore isn’t likely to bend. But the trend today seems to be tighter and tighter pants with vestigial pockets that, like the front limbs on a Tyrannosaurs Rex, are technically there but functionally useless.

OK, I’m half joking there. I’m sure many of the iPhone 6s that have been bent weren’t left half hanging out of a vestigial pocket on a pair of skinny jeans. The real problem here is that people got exactly what they wished for. That is to say people have been demanding thinner phones with larger displays. While this sounds like a great combination you run into the real structural limitations. Namely the materials that make up a phone; glass, plastic, and aluminum; aren’t flexible but if you make them too thin they also aren’t strong enough to resist much force. Combine that with a larger surface area to exert force against and you have the recipe for a pretty flimsy piece of shit.

Be careful what you wish for because you may just get it.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 25th, 2014 at 10:00 am

Why I Like Night Sights

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Somebody went and did it. Somebody upset the cosmic balance in the gun community by questioning ancient scripture. Via the Firearm Blog I came across a post that argues against night sights being a necessity. This is much more interesting than the caliber wars because you don’t often see people arguing over whether or not night sights are a must, their necessity is usually taken as a given. I encourage you to read it and keep an open mind because the author makes some good points. With that said, I’m going to explain my primary purpose for having night sights on my defensive firearms.

I’m not a fan of spending more money for night sights. But I have a condition which makes night sights handy. That condition is shitty eyesight, namely myopia. Without corrective lenses I can’t see fine detail out further than six or so inches. The notches that make up my rear sight blur together to create a rectangular blob sitting on top of my handgun, which makes picking out a black front sight practically impossible. But make the sights glow, specifically make the rear sights glow a different color from the front sight, and I can distinguish front from back and do a halfway decent job of aligning them. While my nearsightedness makes it practically impossible to distinguish the black rectangular blob on the rear of the gun from the black rectangular blob on the front of the gun I can distinguish the two orange blobs from the green blog.

Fortunately my nearsightedness doesn’t make seeing gross detail nearly as difficult. I can see well enough to determine if the person in front of me is holding a weapon and acting in a threatening manner. My low light vision is also surprisingly good (the light from a digital clock is usually enough for me to make out notable detail in a room). So my primary limitation in a low light self-defense situation is seeing the sights because they’re really tiny.

I do carry a flashlight on me because being flooding an aggressor with a 200 lumen light will probably blind him for a bit and will certainly make him very visible to me. A good flashlight or weapon mounted light is more valuable, in my opinion, than night sights when dealing with low light defensive situation. Laser sights are also good tools in my opinion since I can see a green blob on a target even better than two orange blobs and one green blob on top of my gun. The only reason I don’t have a laser/light combination mounted on my defensive firearm is because I can’t find a combination of a holster and sight with a green laser that I like (and I need green specifically because my eyes don’t pick up the wavelength most red lasers use very well). For my needs night sights are very useful, green laser sights are greatly appreciated, and really bright lights are awesome. But as always your situation probably differs from mine and your mileage will vary.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 24th, 2014 at 10:00 am

Yesterday’s Apple Announcement

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There isn’t much else worth writing about so I’ll fill some space by giving a quick summary of yesterday’s Apple announcements.

First Apple introduced us to the new iPhone 6. It’s thinner and faster, just like every other iPhone. But here’s the twist, there are two screen sizes. The first, dubbed the iPhone 6, is slightly larger than the current iPhone. But Apple saved the best for last because the company has finally released a phone that is big enough to be impractical to carry around and it’s calling it the iPhone 6 Plus. Now Apple users can experience the joy of a phone that’s too big to fit in most pockets but too small to be a useful tablet.

Next Apple announced Apple Pay. I think the name explains it quite well, it’s Apple’s new payment system. This looks interesting simply because current credit and debit card security in this country is a joke. When it can be used everywhere credit cards are accepted I will probably take a bigger interest.

Finally Apple’s big announcement, the Apple Watch, made everybody at the event euphoric. Basically it’s the ugliest device Apple has released since I started using the company’s products. Seriously. It’s really fucking ugly. On the upside it does pack a lot of features into its hideous shell. The watchband is easily removed and replaced with other Apple Watch compatible bands because using standard watchbands would be too much to ask for. As expected it uses inductive charging, contains a heartbeat monitor, and a gyroscope. You interface with the watch via the crown, which scrolls shit when you turn it and dumps you back to the home screen when you press it in. There’s also another button on the side that brings up your contacts. Oh, I almost forgot, it also has a touchscreen, which renders all of the hardware controls pretty pointless. One of the big questions with any smartwatch is how long the battery lasts. Well Apple totally didn’t mention that so we have no idea. But come 2015 you will be able to get your hands on one for the low price of $349.00. Or for just a little bit more you could buy a Hamilton Khaki Field watch, which nets you a nice looking piece with a mechanical movement. Your choice.

After the Apple Watch announcement I began to suspect that Apple was trolling everybody at the event. My suspicions were confirmed when Apple subjected every poor son of a bitch at the event to U2. Talk about adding insult to injury. Oh, and U2 announced another shitty album. But it seems that the band finally realizes that its music is shitty because you can get it free on iTunes, which is too high of a price if you ask me.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am

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The Vatican Armory

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By today’s standards the Vatican’s Swiss Guard look goofy as fuck. While their purple and yellow uniforms look as out of place in today’s world as plated mail their weapons, at least the ones stored in the armory, are pretty modern:

Rifles of the Swiss Guard have long been whatever is standard with the Swiss Army. Since 1990, that has meant the SIG SG550 rifle. This 5.56mm NATO select-fire rifle has a 20.8-inch barrel and is one of the most accurate and reliable modern combat rifles. Its 30-round clear lexan magazines clip together like ‘jungle mag’ style for rapid exchanges. The Guard owns both the standard StW90 rifle variant and the SG 552 Commando model (with 8.9-inch barrel, 19.8-inches overall with stock folded). With the Swiss military tradition of marksmanship, it’s guaranteed that these soldiers can use them if needed.


In the 1970s, these guns were augmented by HK MP5s from West Germany, one of the first instances of the Guard using non-Swiss made guns. Today the Guard now carries the ultra-modern HK MP7 PDW chambered in 4.6×30mm. This is a good choice as these same types are used by US Navy Seals, German GSG9 and just about anyone who doesn’t agree with Jerry Tsai.

The article has many pictures of the Swiss Guard and the armory, which is full of both modern and historical weaponry. Where else in the world will you see rifles like this:


alongside plate armor like this:


The Vatican’s Swiss Guard even have Glock 19s with the Vatican seal imprinted on the slide (you can’t go to Hell for shooting somebody with one of those, right). I would love to have an opportunity to tour the centuries of history that that armory (and the Vatican itself) contains.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Random Neat Historical Fact: Pay Phones and Chronographs Edition

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It always amazes me how technologies intermingle with one another. Consider the average automobile, which almost always have a cigarette lighter. This simple almost universal inclusion actually says a lot about the popularity of cigarettes in our society (at least the historical popularity). Most of these intermingling technologies go unnoticed by us because they’re just so common.

One of those technological minglings that I never noticed, even though I’m a bit of a horological nerd, specific markings on old chronographs. Oftentimes the minute subdail for the chronograph function will emphasize the markers for three, six, and nine. I always assumed this was merely an aesthetic thing and never questioned it further but as it turns out there was a functional reason for this:

It all comes down to the telephone. According to a watchmaker and enthusiast, I was informed that back in the 40s, 50s and early 60s when these watches were being produced, people used payphones regurarly. Cell phones obviously didn’t exist and many people didn’t have landline in their home yet. When using a payphone at the time, the money you put in got you three minutes of talk time, and you were cut off abruptly when your time was up.

The lines on the chronograph simply help you keep track of your telephone call. You’d start the chronograph, put in your money, and easily be able to know when to put more money in or to finish your conversation. Most calls were likely under 10 minutes, which is why only the first three-minute markers look like this.

I would have never guess that. After all pay phones were already in rare use when I was a kid. This makes me wonder if the next generation of children, who will likely have much more limited exposure to cigarettes, will be confused about what the removable button in the car that gets hot when pressed is for.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

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I’m a fan of wrist-mounted time measuring devices (commonly referred to as watches). Although my true passion lies in mechanical watches I do have a great deal of interest in smartwatches. I own a Pebble and find it to be surprisingly useful. It’s obviously a first generation (at least this time around, I did have a watch made by Fossil that ran PalmOS back in the day) device and I’ve been looking forward to seeing where the market heads to next. Of all the newly announced smartwatches Google’s Moto 360 is the most interesting to me. It seems to be a well thought out design and I was thinking about picking one up but Google, in my opinion, failed in one department: size:

The round watch is about 46 mm in diameter. That sounds big — I have a 42 millimeter watch that I consider large — but Wicks made a good point. If the watch was rectangular, it would feel and be even bigger with a 46 millimeter face, with the corners cutting into wrists

46mm? Wow! That’s way too large for my girl-ass wrists. Big watches are all the craze today, which can make finding a watch difficult for me since anything over 40mm begins to look stupid, but it would be nice if Google made the Moto 360 in a more reasonable size. According to the article Google believes women will be willing to buy a 46mm watch but I’m not so sure. Some women do buy larger watches but from what I’ve seen most continue to wear small watches.

One of the things Pebble got right was the form factor. The Pebble isn’t overly large. It uses a display that sips power so the small battery can still provide between five and seven days of juice. With a color touchscreen I believe Google had to increase the Moto 360’s overall size to get a battery large enough to keep the display powered for an extended period of time.

It will be interesting to see if the Moto 360 takes off. I’m not sure if the gargantuan size will hurt or help sales. But I can say for certain that the technology is really cool.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 27th, 2014 at 11:30 am

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Upgrading My Reloading Setup

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I’ve been reloading since I was a teenager. Since then I have been using the RCBS Rock Chucker I started out with for all metallic cartridge reloading. It’s a decent setup but it’s slow. I finally decided that I’m an adult and it’s time I stepped up my reloading operation. So I spent Christmas morning with my father setting up this bad boy:


I am now rocking a Hornady Lock-N-Load AP. Needless to say I’m looking forward to the decrease in reloading time.

Written by Christopher Burg

December 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Raspberry Pi Bitcoin Miner

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As those of you reading know, I’m a big fan of Bitcoin and a big fan of the Raspberry Pi. It was only a matter of time until I decided to follow in the footsteps of many and setup a Raspberry Pi Bitcoin miner. In an unrelated Amazon search I noticed that the ASCIMiner Block Erupters had come down in price (they sell for $29.98 on Amazon’s main page but cheaper units can be had from other Amazon vendors) so I decided to order a couple.

Mind you, nobody is going to get rich off of a Block Erupter. My desire was to experiment with them. I’ve often wondered how much a somewhat decent miner could be built for. Combining cheap Block Erupters with cheap Raspberry Pis seemed like an excellent want to build an affordable miner (with the acknowledgement that the setup was unlikely to pay for itself). I followed the setup guide on Adafruit and was mining Bitcoin in minutes. What follows are some issues I ran into.

First, my Raspberry Pi wasn’t able to provide reliable power to both modules. This wasn’t unexpected. While the Pi could run one Erupter without any issue the second one would periodically die from loss of power. The mining application I used, cgminer, continuously notified me of hardware errors. Fortunataly, I have a second Raspberry Pi that runs my Tor relay so I unplugged the second Erupter from the first Pi, plugged it into the second Pi, and got it up and running without any trouble. The obvious solution to this problem is to purchase a powered USB hub.

Second, Block Erupters run hot. I learned this lesson when I went to unplug my second Erupter from my first Pi. If you’ve been running an Erupter make sure you give it time to cool down before touching it (or be impatient, like me, and grab some gloves). You will also want to invest in a small fan to keep your Erupters cool. This USB powered fan has been recommended by several people and costs all of $8.00.

Third, as I feel this needs to be pointed out, setting up a mining rig isn’t the most efficient way to acquire Bitcoin. Sites like Coinbase are better sources. The amount of Bitcoin you can mine with an Erupter isn’t going to pay for the hardware for quite some time (even before calculating in the cost of electricity, fans, powered hubs, etc.). I’m perusing this project for fun and to fulfill my curiosity. When I need to acquire Bitcoin in usable quantities I tend to buy from sellers.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 9th, 2013 at 11:30 am

The iPhone 5S Fingerprint Reader

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Yesterday Apple announced their new iPhones. The iPhone 5c was, in my opinion, wasn’t at all newsworthy. Apple’s new flagship phone, the iPhone 5s, wouldn’t be newsworthy except for its fingerprint reader:

Apple’s brand-new iPhone 5s isn’t dramatically different from last year’s model, but it has at least one major addition: a “Touch ID” sensor. Us human beings are calling it a fingerprint sensor, and it’s built into the phone’s main Home button below the screen. Apple’s Phil Schiller says, “It reads your fingerprint at an entirely new level” — it’s 170 microns in thickness with 500 ppi resolution. According to Cupertino, it “scans sub-epidermal skin layers,” and can read 360 degrees. As expected, the sensor is actually part of the Home button, making it less of a button and more of a…well, sensor. Using Touch ID, users can authorize purchases in iTunes, the App Store, or in iBooks by simply using their thumbprint (starting in iOS 7, of course). Pretty neat / scary!

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. It’s certainly a neat piece of technology and I don’t want to decry Apple for trying something new in the smartphone field. Today you can lock your phone with a four-digit passcode or a full password. If I were betting money I would bet that a majority of users use neither option. Of the people who put a passcode on their phone a vast majority likely opt for the four-digit option. Phones are devices that are accessed frequently. Having to enter a long password every time you want to check your Twitter feed get annoying quickly. Therefore few people are willing to use a complex password to security their phones. That leaves most people not enabling any security and those who enable security most likely opt for a relatively insecure four-digit passcode.

Apple has been fairly good about including security features that are relatively easily to use and this fingerprint reader looks to be another one. Time will tell if the sensor is easily fooled by other fingerprints but if it convinces more people to put some kind of security on their phone I’m happy. If the technology is properly implemented it could easily be more secure than the four-digit passcode (admittedly not a high barrier to climb over).

Then there’s the other side of the coin. My first thought after seeing the announcement of a fingerprint reader was that the police are going to love it. As it currently stands, a police officer wanting immediate access to your phone must obtain a search warrant and gain your cooperation, have a mechanism of exploiting a security hole in the phone on site, or bring force into things either as a threat or as physical harm. With the inclusion of a fingerprint reader a police officer need only force your finger onto the sensor to unlock it. That seems to be far less hassle than the other three mentioned options.

In light of Edward Snowden’s leaks there is also the concern that your fingerprint will be send off to the National Security Agency (NSA). While Apple promised that your fingerprint data will only be stored locally there is no way to verify that fact. Furthermore, if Apple was compelled with a national security letter to include a mechanism to allow the NSA to obtain fingerprint data they wouldn’t be legally allowed to tell us. That thought should scare everybody.

Finally, on a more practical side, biometrics have a fatal flaw: the technology is based on sensor data obtained from your body as a point in time. What happens if you cut your finger? Will the sensor detect your altered fingerprint as somebody else? What happens if your finger is cut off? Our bodies can change over time and those changes are often difficult, if not impossible, for biometric technology to detect.

As with most security technology there are ups and downs to this fingerprint reader. If it convinces more people to enable security on their phones then I will be content. However, one must realize that there are real downsides to using your fingerprint as a security token.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 11th, 2013 at 11:00 am