Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Well, everyone, it's time for me to go on vacation. I'll be back on Monday, August 12.


Handguns have always been popular. They're mainly small, easily carried firearms that can be instantly ready in case of an emergency. Matchlock pistols, small handguns that were set off by lowering a lit match in to the powder, existed but they weren't very practical. It wasn't until the wheel lock was invented that handguns became a weapon to be taken seriously. The biggest drawback was the expense of the complicated and finicky wheel lock, which meant that only the rich could afford these guns. The surviving examples of wheel lock pistols show an enormous amount of decoration and ornamentation.

The invention of the simple flintlock meant that robust, inexpensive handguns were now in the economic reach of just about everyone.

Still, there were some problems. The pistol only had one barrel, and only a single shot could be fired before tediously reloading the weapon. One solution was to add more barrels, each with it's own round loaded in to it. This increased firepower but increased the size and weight of the pistol. Since the main reason to have a pistol in the first place was to have something small and light, this was a definate problem.

This problem was solved by Samuel Colt. He used the percussion cap system, and his pistol only had one barrel. The cylinder had room for six shots, and each time the hammer was cocked the cylinder would turn just enough to put a new round behind the barrel.

After cartridges were introduced, the revolver was easily redesigned to accept the new ammunition. Although every modern military force in the world (and most modern police forces) use semi-automatic handguns, revolvers are still manufactured and used by a large segment of the population.

Monday, August 05, 2002

The Russian daily Pravda has a short piece on how Islamic extremists are influencing Moroccan foreign policy. It would appear that the recent debacle between Spain and Morocco over Parsley Island was a result.

The Russians are concerned about a legal dispute. It seems that the Russian Supreme Court handed down a decision that would allow the National Reserve Bank of Russia to sue some French credit bureau named Credit Agricol Indosuez. The Russians are pissed because their legal decisions by the highest court in Russia are blocked by the New York Supreme Court.

So why would a U.S. state court become involved in matters between Russia's national banking system and a French credit bureau? How could the New York court have the authority to overturn a decision by the highest court in Russia? I'll leave those questions to the lawyers in the Blogosphere.

According to this article in Pravda, the Russians are also against a U.S. attack on Iraq. If I didn't know better I'd swear that it had been written by a newspaper in the E.U.

Another thing that the Russians seem to share with the Eurowheenies is an admiration for Colin Powell, who's seen as the sole voice of reason in an administration gone mad.

Russia has announced plans to build five nuclear power plants in Iran. The Bush administration is understandably upset about this. The Russians say that the U.S. concerns are, to be frank, idiotic.

"The claim that the Russian Federation is collaborating with a pariah state to aid it to obtain nuclear grade weapons is insulting and shows a degree of hysteria, and ignorance, which is astonishing at these levels of management.

"The notion that any movement within the three “evil” states is a disguised plan to wreak Armageddon on the streets of the USA or Israel is as farcically simplistic as it is infantile. "

The Russians also claim "..Moscow is far more sensitive to Islamist problems in the region than any other country, except perhaps Israel. "

Read between the lines and it becomes clear that the Russians are doing this for the money. They don't have anything else to sell except nuclear technology, and Russia is hardly in a position to turn down some hard cash if they can get it.

According to this news item in Pravda, a couple in Tanzania were indulging in a little horizontal refreshment when a lion attacked and devoured the woman.

I don't think the lion pictured is the one who performed the deed. But he certainly does have the look of the cat that ate the ....er, canary.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

About 1520 CE or so a gunsmith came up with a way of cutting spiralled grooves inside the barrel of a gun and called it "rifling". This increased the range from 30 yards (maybe) to about 100 yards. Why did the bullet fly farther in rifles than in smoothbores?

Actually, the bullet doesn't fly any further or travel any faster. Instead it tarvels in a more straight line. The grooves cut in the barrel make the bullet spin. By spinning the bullet smooths out any imperfections in weight, so if the bullet is heavier on one side it doesn't drift off in that direction. Instead the bullet makes these little corkscrews in the air as it travels.

Early rifles looked exactly like smoothbore muskets, they just had the grooves cut inside the barrel. They needed to be loaded in a similar way, with some gunpowder poured in the barrel and the bullet pushed down on top. But they took a lot longer to load than smoothbore weapons. The reason is that a bullet about as large as the inside of the barrel had to be used so it would scrape against the sides on the way out. Otherwise the grooves wouldn't start the bullet spinning. This meant that many early riflemen would carry around wooden mallets so they could pound the bullet down the barrel.

This problem was solved by a Frenchman named Captain Claude Minie. He took a small bullet and small iron cup in the bottom. When the gun was fired the hot gas would push the cup in to the lead bullet, making it expand. Then the bullet would swell up to a large enough size to scrape against the sides of the barrel.

Then cartridges were developed. All one had to do was load a single round in the gun and shoot, instead of pouring gunpowder and pushing bullets down the barrel. Single shot rifles were first developed, followed by lever action rifles. But the military decided to adopt the bolt action rifle. (Isn't that a pretty gun?)

Bolt action rifles usually have five rounds in them, and the shooter has to stop and work the bolt after every shot. It was't until World War II that a semi-auto rifle was adopted by a major army. The semi-auto rifle had some sort of magazine or "clip" loaded in to it. The shooter would just load a clip in the gun and keep shooting until it was empty. It wasn't long until someone decided to design a rifle that would fire full auto like a machine gun. The problem was that the full auto versions were heavy and the recoil from the full-powered rifle round made controlling the weapon problematic. These problems were more or less solved when the assault rifle was developed, but that's the subject of another post.

One of the legendary U.S. Marine snipers from the Viet Nam War was Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock. One of the things that made him a legend was that he was always experimenting with new ways to make the extreme shots. He took a standard .50 caliber machine gun and welded a telescopic sight to it so he could use it as a sniper weapon.

This idea was expanded on to produce .50 caliber sniper weapons. Lighter than the belt fed machine gun versions, they fed from a box magazine and were intended to be operated by one man. But they really weren't supposed to be used to kill individuals.

These weapons were intended to be used by units of the special forces operating behind enemy lines to destroy high value targets or grounded aircraft. Obviously, the more damage produced per round fired is a goal to be pursued. With this in mind some firearm manufacturers are producing enormous guns firing enormous rounds (as a side note, these weapons seem to be generating a buzz in Russian circles).

Of course these weapons could be used for shooting at individuals at extreme ranges, but the target would have to be standing still for awhile. Still, some people have claimed that these weapons are illegal terror weapons. Why it's against the rules to shoot a target at extreme range with a large round, as opposed to coming a little closer and shooting the target with a smaller round, is beyond me.